I count myself fortunate to have grown up in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley in a large, loving family, with a great mom and dad, two younger brothers, and three younger sisters. Perhaps that is why I always identified so closely with television’s touching saga of “The Waltons,” based on the Earl Hamner Jr. book, The Homecoming. Now, for your holiday pleasure, we have Evelyn Swenson’s musical version of “The Homecoming,” currently being joyfully presented at the Crighton Theatre under the able direction of Terry Lynn Hale. Don’t miss this chance to add warmth to your holidays, and by all means, bring the kids!
The Depression-era action plays out in the simple, yet charming country house of the Spencer family (Set Designer- Gil Mendez, Costumes- Lynn Peverill). A bit of bluegrass music sets the tone at curtain time. There is plenty more music to come (Music Director, Lee Barrow), with a large and wonderful choir of many children (and some talented adults) who will surely put you in the Christmas mood, even as they enter from the rear of the auditorium and surround the audience with a glowing “O Holy Night.” As the scene opens it is a snowy Christmas Eve on Spencer’s Mountain. Mother, Olivia (Carole Lenz), is trying to comfort the concerns of her eight children as their father, Clay Spencer (John Heimsath), has not returned home from work during the storm. “Christmas is a time for miracles,” she assures them. Brian Heaton gives a nice performance as Clay-Boy Spencer, the oldest son, and aspiring writer, who helps the audience along this journey with occasional narration. Mom and the children distract themselves with the cheerful “Applesauce Cake” song, and then we meet the feisty daughter, Becky, played with considerable sass by Layla Colleen Murray-Schroeder. (Yes, that’s all one name!) Becky is a real scene-stealer and makes it very clear she is ready to take on the world as she sings, “When I Grow Up.” Joel Kelly, Austin Finkle, Kaitlyn Elizabeth Lyon, Logan Siple, Sean James, and Elizabeth Rae Turner nicely play the other six Spencer children.
There is wonderful shadowy, silhouette lighting (designers, Justin Woods, Jim Kelly) as Clay-Boy has an imagined duet of “You Don’t Understand” with his father, and then a poignant duet of “Let Tomorrow Take Care of Itself” with his mother. The crusty grandparents, Homer and Ida, (Jim Walker/Sharon Murphy) join the children in a cheerful reminder of the Depression years with “Hard Times.” A fine supporting cast includes Mackenzie Goode, as the amusing Birdshot, who sings “The Pool Hall Blues,” and Cristin Wappler as the kindly missionary lady who leads the kids in “The 12 Days of Christmas,” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The friendly neighbor, Charlie Sneed (Donald B. Johnson), leads Grandpa and the kids in a real hoedown of the merry “Backwoods Robin Hood” that closes Act One.
In Act Two we meet more town characters with the sheriff (Vince Conner), storekeeper, Ike Godsey (Christopher Wayne Stoffel), and Rev. Dooly (Michael C. Read). Dooly presides over the “Pretty Little Baby” nativity scene (Billie Bruley as Joseph/ Morgan Freeman as Mary) and a full choir rendition of “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Then, for added fun, we meet the town moonshine-making spinster sisters, Miss Etta (Delma Talley) and Miss Emma (Julia M. Johnson). Etta sings sweetly of lost love and her old beau, “Ashley Longworth,” and then dances quite a merry eggnog jig while joining her sister to sing, “Christmas Cheer.” A real Christmas moment came when the sweet-voiced Spencer children huddle under blankets in the barn to gently sing “The Friendly Beasts.” Miss Lenz shows her fine voice in Olivia’s worried solo of “God Only Knows,” as she still awaits the safe return of her husband. Happily, father soon returns, and Mr. Heimsath gives us a papa full of fun as he arrives with a bundle of gifts for all. Why not give yourself a gift and bring the whole family to the Crighton Theatre for this special Christmas treat?
Homecoming plays through December 17th with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and one Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. December 11th. For tickets and information call 936-441-7469.
(The Courier 12.14.05)