You get the feeling Ella Eden wants something to go right, just this once. With good reason: her father no longer recognizes her — Alzheimer’s. All he can recall is the moment, years ago, when they found an old miner’s cabin in the Sierra Nevada, and they — only he, actually — saw a falling star.
Ella’s convinced that filming a “musical Christmas card” at the old cabin might trigger more memories, of her most of all.
She’s convinced a band and the famous singer/diva, Glory, to make the dirt road trek up to the cabin and do the shoot. They’ll have nine hours of daylight. Plenty of time if everything jibes.
But the nanny’s a no-show, so daughter Ellie has the run of the place. The burly man nicknamed Kodak isn’t the filmmaker she hoped for. Items get lost. The only spot on the mountaintop with halfway decent cell-phone reception is up a tree – “can you hear me now?” But Ella does not like heights. Each fiasco burns more daylight.
Kerry Meads’ world-premiere script could use some tightening, but works well as a vehicle for the cast to perform the hallmark of Lamb’s Festival shows: familiar and unfamiliar yuletide songs performed with new, often stunning arrangements, unexpected tempos, four-or-more-part harmonies, and a wide range of styles, all under the musical direction of the gifted Jon Lorenz.
Falling Star has the advantage of the four-member band playing characters in the piece, and that everyone else can sing up a storm and play instruments, as in “I Wonder as I Wander.” They begin softly. Then new performers join in. By the end the whole group becomes a raucous Irish Jug Band, and they rock the wooden walls of Mike Buckley’s rustic set.
Joy Yandell heads the cast as Ella. She opens the show with a mute prologue that reveals Ella’s hyper-compulsiveness to a T (or, as t’were, to an OCD): like a stage manager, she prepares the cabin for visitors — spruces up decorations, rolls out rugs — with many a comic mishap. When Yandell sings she puts her first name in every song.
It’s tough to single out individuals — confer medals and battlefield promotions — since their best work is often as an ensemble. And so versatile: from Chuck Berry’s contribution to the Christmas canon, “Run, Rudolph, Run,” to new versions of “White Christmas” and “Midnight Clear.”
Okay, Catie Grady’s limpid soprano for “Love is Christmas” takes the cake. But Anise Ritchie’s solos as Glory, Brian Barbarin’s as Kodak, and Leonard Patton’s, and Nathan Peirson’s hip harmonica work will keep the baker busy.
Peirson plays Leon, a sage local, in one of the play’s best scenes. After a catalogue of things that come in threes (Stooges, Wise Men, pyramids, Manny, Moe, and Jack), he gives a down-home “sermon” to young Ellie (Avery Trimm) and very young Cameron (Katrina Heil, who’s inherited her father Jason’s talents) that makes sense even to us old timers.