Playhouse producing Christmas production

Combine the most popular Cresson Lake Playhouse actors with a well-known Christmas story, and you’ve got the makings of a great holiday show sure to delight audiences.

That’s what director Rachel Wagner thinks of her creation, “A Cresson Lake Christmas,” that she wrote based on the poem “The Night Before Christmas.”

Wagner, who has directed Cresson Lake productions such as this year’s Agatha Christie’s’ “The Mousetrap” and last year’s “13 The Musical,” has included several of favorite Cresson Lake actors in the performance.

“It was always my desire to reunite a lot of the cast members from the more popular shows and have them do more things together,” she said. “I just thought it would be good to get them together, and what better way than with a beloved Christmas poem?”

Narrator Joe Houser tells the familiar tale of the man who has a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve, Wagner said.

“Sometimes he’s [Houser] sitting in a chair and sometimes he’s moving around,” she said.

Woven into the story are the familiar holiday tunes that audiences have come to expect from a Christmas show, such as “Sleigh Ride” and “O Holy Night.” In that way, it made the show easy to learn for the cast of 15 that ranges in age from about five years old to 30, Wagner said.

“They’re all familiar songs, so it wasn’t like they had to start from scratch, which made it easier for them to learn,” she said. “I know people are busy at this time of year, so I wanted to come up with something that would be easy for them.”

Wagner, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in theater, has appeared in Cresson Lake productions as an actor and has also acted in Altoona Community Theatre events.

But she gets a certain satisfaction out of directing.

“There is definitely a different reward that comes from directing, a different sense of pride, just to sit back when it’s all taking place and watching it all unfold,” she said.

Kelly Hartman will be both onstage and behind the scenes. Hartman, who has appeared in several Cresson Lake productions including this year’s “Spamalot” and last year’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” is one of the singing “Marvelous Wonderettes,” a musical group that sings songs from the 1950s and 1960s. A piano and voice teacher in Hollidaysburg, she is also the music director for the production.

Hartman was able to email the music to cast members so that they arrived at rehearsals already familiar with their music.

“They virtually had me in their pocket,” she said, with many choosing to download their parts onto their iPods.

Hartman said the cast members thought Wagner’s idea to incorporate familiar holiday songs with Cresson Lake cast members who loyal Playhouse attendees would know and wrap them up in a Christmas tale everyone knew all sounded great.

“We all wanted something simple,” she said. “Everyone is so busy at this time of year, with so many things going on and this just was perfect. And a lot of season ticketholders who are at every show really get to know the different cast members.”

Even though Cresson Lake Playhouse is based in Loretto, the Christmas show will be staged at the courthouse in Ebensburg as part of the borough’s “Dickens of a Christmas” celebration. The annual event in celebration of Charles Dickens’ famous book, “A Christmas Carol,” features people dressed in Victorian costume, vendors, crafters, Victorian teas and a Christmas parade.

“It’s like a Christmas snow globe,” said Hartman, who has also acted in Altoona Community Theatre productions. “And the courthouse is the perfect backdrop for this show. It’s really a nice thing.”