FEATURE: “Expectations of Christmas” Exceeds Expectations

10350506_10152838047500502_4709782750932262253_nThe evening started with the warm welcome we’ve come to expect from Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers. She briefly told the story of how in 1996, Ruth Sawyer left her purse on the front door of the theater and a client and staff member of Tender Mercies (located around the corner) rang the doorbell to return it untouched.  This opened the door for an annual tradition of holding a cabaret to raise funds for this deserving charity.

Tender Mercies has been in existence since 1985.  From their website:  “Tender Mercies transforms the lives of homeless adults with mental illness by providing security, dignity, and community in a place they call home.”  I’m glad that Ensemble Theatre, Meyers, and her board are socially conscious; they don’t just run a theatre.

Jared D. Doren and Annie Fitzpatrick in last year's "Around the World in 80 Days"
Jared D. Doren and Annie Fitzpatrick in last year’s “Around the World in 80 Days”

Tonight they hosted a cabaret featuring some of the best performers in town for EXPECTATIONS OF CHRISTMAS.  At $10 a ticket, this is a steal; I could easily see paying $50 for a show featuring this level of talent.  Once Meyers gave her curtain speech, David Kisor (composer of “Sleeping Beauty” and all the other holiday shows produced over the last several years at ETC) sang “Joy to the World” from the keyboard.  The company treated us to some tidbits of Christmas trivia and Jared D. Doren sang a beautiful version of “Christmas Time Is Here.”  Doren is typically seen at the Box Office as the Director of Patron Services and you can also see him directing around town (his take on ASSASSINS opens in the spring at Falcon Theatre).  He was accompanied by Scot Wooley, on his day off from the Playhouse in the Parks’ TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY STORY.

Up next was a touching, well-written short story from Meyers told by interns Molly Israel, Patrick Phillips, Kadeem Ali Harris and professionals Deb G. Girdler, Denise Devlin, and Sara Mackie.  Girdler who chews up the scenery like no one’s business when it’s called for was restrained here; I’d really like to see her perform a “straight” role sometime!  And Mackie’s turn as an escaped puppy dog in search of Santa was funny, touching, and just wonderful.  This story is amazing and I don’t know if its been published somewhere . . .it should be along with her other pieces shared this evening.

Sleeping Beauty’s Deirdre Manning and Patrick Phillips performed a unique version of “You Belong To Me”.  Former House Manager now Marketing and Development Associate Amy Janowiecki showed off her voice with “O Holy Night.”

Denise Devlin as a Wonderette
Denise Devlin as a Wonderette

Then, Denise Devlin performed a very touching and an impeccably sung version of “Christmas Cliche,” a song she did in the Christmas incarnation of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” a few years ago.  Jared Doren entertained with his recitation of Finn Garner’s “Politically Correct Holiday Stories” and then after a brief version of “Winter Wonderland” sung by the entire company  Interns Aziza Macklin and Emily Scott shared another of Meyers’ written works, “An Introduction to Angels.”

We were treated to some hilarity (some of it unintentional, but very funny – everyone just rolled with it) from Ben Raanan, the Director of Education and Directing Apprentice.  His ugly Hanukkah sweater had everyone in stitches as he gave us a Jewish perspective of the holidays in “Story of the Light.”

Annie Fitzpatrick, who stepped into the role of Mrs. Fezziwig at the Playhouse, then shared a tear-jerking Christmas fantasy from Meyers called “Nick of Time.”  I really loved this piece and Fitzpatrick is one of our cities sweetest actresses.  This led into a rousing version of “Let It Snow” by the company.


Deb G. Girdler in "Sleeping Beauty"
Deb G. Girdler in “Sleeping Beauty”

And then Deb G. Girdler performed “The Christmas Song.”  I couldn’t help but think that this was what it felt like to watch a classic Broadway diva like Bea Arthur or Betty Buckley; Girdler has so much grace, poise, and classic showmanship and I was blown away. Wooley’s tremendous keyboard work is out of another era, too, and I could watch these two all night long.  And again, this only cost $10!?  What a steal.

Sara Mackie in "Other Desert Cities"
Sara Mackie in “Other Desert Cities”

Sara Mackie then serenaded me personally with a hysterical and brilliant version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”  I avoid that kind of attention normally, but I’m such a fan of Mackie’s that I couldn’t help but just smile the whole time.  TJ Ganser told us about the history of stockings and Kisor headed into the finale with his original song “Look Inside,” Intern Natalie Joyce Smith shared Meyers’ “Expectations of Christmas” and the company sang us out with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” before leaving the stage.

This was a marvelous night of entertainment; I almost didn’t go after a long Monday at work.  But I am so glad that I did.  And I’ll be back again next year.  In fact, I want to see ETC sold out next Christmas for this important fundraiser for one of Over the Rhine’s greatest non-profits.

Up next at Ensemble Theatre is THE OTHER PLACE, a contemporary drama.  It opens on January 27th.  In the meantime, however, most of the talented performers that appeared in EXPECTATIONS can be seen in SLEEPING BEAUTY through January 4th.  Check out ETC’s web site for more details on the entire season.



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