Theater Review: The Christmas Bus
“I wanted to direct something new that people in the St. George area had not seen before, and something that would brighten their days and get them in the Christmas spirit,” states Kelly Olsen, the director of St. George Musical Theater’s “The Christmas Bus.” Olsen joins countless others who strive for this same thing every year, but where many strike out, Kelly Olsen struck gold.
“The Christmas Bus” is a tender and cheerful musical by Robert Inman that takes you on a journey through a picture-book Christmas tale. Set at the Peaceful Valley Orphanage, the delightfully bumbling yet devoted director Miz Frump wants nothing more than an extra special Christmas for her kids. Hell-bent on finding a family for each one, nothing — including gossipy town busybodies, Sheriff Snodgrass, or a dilapidated school bus — will stand in her way. Add a traveling troubadour chasing his own dreams into the mix and you’ve got all the makings of an unforgettable show. With fifteen original songs and a busload of adventurers, “The Christmas Bus” is well on the way to that honored list of Christmas classics.
Miz Frump, played by Joni Cutler, successfully conveyed the frazzled yet lovable nature of her character. She opened the show high-spirited and with great energy. Although her voice showed signs of struggle throughout the show, Cutler still performed each song with genuine heart, a crucial trait in the portrayal of Miz Frump.
A veteran to the stage and talented professional, John Grzesiak narrates this lovable show as the Editor. Grzesiak captures that old-timey feel, evoking a comfort and ease felt by all. Essential to the tone and momentum of the show, Grzesiak tied each scene together seamlessly and seemed to be an overall audience favorite.
Parker Olson shines playing Thomas, the oldest orphan at Peaceful Valley Orphanage. A familiar face in local theater, Olson has natural comedic timing and conviction. He not only brings the energy up whenever on stage (like during the song “Persistence”) but also manages to enhance the scene without stealing it, a balancing act Olson nails throughout the show.
The orphans are the heart and backbone of the production, and they come packing with an energy that gets your heart smiling! Composed of two equally talented casts (The Red Candy Cane and The Green Christmas Cookie Cast), you’re in for a blast of fun regardless which one you see. The night I went, the Green Christmas Cookie Cast was performing and are as follows:
Louann, played by Olivia Bang (Red Cast: Maryn Christensen), was too cute for words, fitting her role to a “T” as the tiniest of the kids. Bang’s character is often quiet, but when she does speak, her natural talent shines through in her vocals and stage presence. Both her parents are veterans in the theater community, and Bang’s charismatic star quality is no surprise, one we hope to see more of.
Keaton Brooksby (Red Cast: Sikeli Naivalu) perfectly played the troublesome orphan Frankie. Always up to mischief, Brooksby steals your heart with each lesson learned and keeps you laughing with his bovine related one-liners.
The spunky orphan Jenny was energetically played by Kaylee Gabrielle Jernagin (Red Cast: Brynn Southwick). A newcomer to theater, you wouldn’t know it with Jernagin’s consistent high energy and natural performance. Her ability to embody her lines with an ease most gain through experience proves how advanced this young actress is. I hope to see her in many more productions!
The sweet and soft-hearted orphan Clara is performed by Abby Jones (Red Cast: Katie Gardner). Jones’ portrayal of Clara is full of heart. Her character is the voice of reason in the group, and Jones’ youthful and warm delivery is a delight to watch.
George Miner (Red Cast: Sawyer Woods) portrays Eugene, the soft-spoken orphan. Miner is sweet in this role and always energetic on stage.
The charismatic orphan Hilda (Red Cast: Hannah Olsen) is played with enthusiasm by Lindsey Olsen. Oozing with energy, Olsen is at home on the stage. Her animated delivery is infectious, and her stage presence sparkles. She was connected and living in the moment, even when her character wasn’t speaking, clear signs of a young budding actress. With her fervent love of theater and talent, Olsen is poised to go far.
Donna, “the geranium girl” is dynamically played by Audra Yeaman (Red Cast: Brooklyn Lyman). With so much personality brimming beneath the surface, we watch her character blossom with the show. Carrying her geranium throughout the show like a pro, Yeaman was never once “aware” of her prop as it became a natural extension of her character.
Tristan Tisdale played the Traveling Troubadour with style. His vocals struggled slightly during the song “Semi-Star,” but that was clearly due to the music being in the wrong key. In the rest of his songs, he effortlessly crooned with a graceful charm.
The set for “The Christmas Bus” was straight out of a children’s storybook, emanating a cozy warmth we all remember. Stage design, set pieces, props and costumes depicted a world full of Christmas cheer. However, it was the actual Christmas bus that truly wowed! Built entirely by hand, Kelly Olsen knew this title set piece had to “steal the show” and be safe for his cast to ride in. After devoting about 80 hours into it, Kelly Olsen achieved an impressive set-piece that moves the story along—literally.
Full of hope, perseverance and a whole lot of love, “The Christmas Bus” promises to keep you smiling, laughing and full of Christmas cheer. It’s easy to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, but this show won’t let you forget it. “The Christmas Bus” plays Dec. 3 through 19 on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7 p.m., so make sure to get your dose of Christmas spirit before it’s too late. Tickets can be purchased before each show at the box office, or online at: http://www.sgmt.org.