Sierra Repertory Theatre is closing its 2017 season with the offbeat and charming musical comedy, “Another Night Before Christmas.”
Written by Sean Grennan and Leah Okimoto, this production is directed by Jacob Harvey and is set in the present in an unnamed urban area.
As the play opens, Karol, a jaded social worker, is making her way home from a holiday party.
It is Christmas Eve and she wants to spend it alone in her fashionable condo drinking wine and relaxing in front of her television. On her way, she encounters a seemingly homeless man, hereafter known as The Guy, and she offers him some leftover food from the party. Surprised, he gratefully accepts and tells her he must return to his work.
Once home, Karol deals with her malfunctioning security system and fends off calls from her mother and a co-worker. She lets it be known that she has no use for the sentimentality of Christmas and thinks it is just an occasion for retailers to cash in. When her cable goes out, she retires to bed and is awakened to find The Guy, whom she encountered earlier, has entered her apartment through her patio door.
The intruder insists that he is Santa Claus, an assertion Karol considers preposterous. Alarmed, she calls the police and finds they do not take her seriously, and are too busy with other emergencies to respond in a timely manner. She determines to handle the situation herself and proceeds to tie up her unwanted visitor.
The plot bears resemblance to the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” and indeed the actors make reference to that movie as well as to Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.”
Making her SRT debut, Amy Bodnar plays Karol with confidence, and convincingly captures both her ambivalence and vulnerability.
Michael Vodde, who has appeared in several SRT productions including “Hairspray” and “My Way,” plays The Guy with relish and invests his character with an edgy wisdom.
There is fine chemistry between the actors and an excellent sense of comic timing as they engage in back and forth dialogue. Their witty and humorous interchanges comprise the best part of the play.
Both actors are talented singers and do an excellent job with the musical numbers, both individually and in unison. But most of the score, which is entertaining in the moment, does not linger in memory once the play has ended. One exception is the song “Poles Apart,” which Bodnar sings eloquently in a lovely, clear voice.
As soon as Karol determines that the intruder means her no harm, she is torn between wanting to get rid of him and wanting to help him. When he leaves as quickly as he arrived, she ventures out into the cold to look for him.
In the second act, the energy picks up considerably as the two characters reunite, and we learn some of the reasons for Karol’s disillusionment. She continues to deny the existence of Santa, but wonders why her visitor knows so much about her.
He in turn, spares no effort to turn her residence into a Christmas wonderland. The heart-warming conclusion, though predictable, will melt all but the most cynical among us.
Diana Newington has designed some very realistic costumes including Karol’s stylish attire and a splashy 49ers pajama and robe ensemble.
Mike Sali’s lighting is clever and effective, especially the twinkling lights which accentuate some of the play’s more poignant moments.
The excellent musical direction is by Mark Seiver.
This is a Christmas story told from a different perspective, which still reflects upon the hope, compassion and joy intrinsic to the season.
Some of the earlier performances have sold out, so this production, which is suitable for all ages, promises to be a holiday hit.
“Another Night Before Christmas” runs through Saturday, Dec. 23, at SRT’s East Sonora Theatre. For tickets or more information, visit sierrarep.org or call (209) 532-3120.