Although Christmas is, as of this writing, still 48 days away, this Christmas tale is sure to put everyone in the holiday spirit.
On November 4, Raleigh Little Theatre opened a holiday musical based on the “Strega Nona” series by Tomie dePaola and adapted for the stage by Thomas W. Olson, accompanied by Alan Shorter's music. The Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre is the perfect place to house this production; it made the sharing experience of theatre even more enjoyable.
This little theatre transported the audience to Calabria, Italy, with its makeshift cobblestone streets, pillars, and traditional Italian music.
In this Christmas tale, Strega Nona, or Grandma Witch, is planning her Christmas Eve feast for the town of Calabria. She knows magic and uses it to help the townspeople. Strega Nona believes that “Christmas has a magic of its own” and vows not to use any of her own magic until after Christmas. There is even a pesky goat that seems to mock Big Anthony and has a little magic of his own by making treats disappear. However, on this particular Christmas, Nona's helper Big Anthony nearly ruins Christmas by one of his many blunders.
Under the direction of Linda O'Day Young, kids of all ages and a few adults really make this Christmas story come alive. O'Day Young has also produced the musical in Chicago; she currently works as the Youth Theatre and Education Director for RLT and has been involved in Theatre Education for 28 years, designing classes for all ages. O'Day Young has a clear passion for Theatre Education.
Martie Todd Sirois, who plays Strega Nona, has been in several shows and has most recently worked backstage for RLT's Lost in Yonkers. She also won several awards for her performance in 'night, Mother in the 2008-9 season. She works in the RLT business office by day and at night teaches acting classes. Sirois projects the perfect character as the sweet and loving Strega Nona.
Charlie Putnam, as the bumbling, forgetful Big Anthony, warmed the audience's heart with his performance. This is Putnam's first production with RLT but he has been taking classes since he was 7. Big Anthony is no doubt the center of the show alongside Strega Nona. He is forgetful and clumsy, yet he has the best intentions. Although Putnam's character may make him seem like a goof, he is quite talented.
Bambalona is well played by Natilie Gianni, who has just recently returned from living in Malaysia for nine years. Bambalona is the baker's daughter and also one of Nona's helpers. Bambalona doesn't enjoy working and loves arguing with Big Anthony, but she realizes that Christmas is a time for giving and spending time with family. Her sweet spirit and determination to help Strega Nona really shine through on stage.
The Production Staff also contributed in this Yuletide tale. Andrew Heil is responsible for the language coaching and incorporation of Italian words. Adding basic Italian is a clever educational tool that enhances the flavor of the production. The lighting, by Jim Zervas, was spot on. The costumes, done by countless volunteers, were tailored very well for each character and really enhanced the bright message of the story.
This Christmas tale is a perfect and affordable holiday treat for the whole family. There is also a meet-and-greet directly after the shows so children can get their playbills autographed by members of the cast. There was a full house on opening night, and the bright colors, song, dance, and humor kept even the antsiest child - and adults,too - entertained.
The show, which is part of the RLT's 2011-12 Youth Series, runs through November 20. For details, see the sidebar.