Each December, theater companies basically have two choices: Go with a classic, sentimental Christmas play, or go with its antithesis — some finger-in-the-eye mockery of mushy moments under mistletoe.
Having staged the ever-safe stand-by A Christmas Carol the past two years, the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company has found its chutzpah this season with A Christmas Survival Guide.
"Because I've been in theater for so many years — and I don't mean this in a cynical way — it's hard for me to sit through another Christmas Carol and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," says director and choreographer Michael Gold.
Fast-paced and fun, according to Gold, Survival Guide features kooky characters and situations, including a naughty Mrs. Claus (played by Sharon Kay White, two-time Denver Post Ovation winner), a 12-step program set to "The 12 Days of Christmas," Elvis and his Candy Cane Girls, and a Jewish kid's Santa-fantasy-come-true.
Performed by a quintet of multitalented actors — a casting note in the original script says the show "requires likeable and versatile performers with strong vocal ability and a comedic flair" — the comedic vignettes pay homage to all the obnoxious, funny and, yes, heartwarming things about the holiday.
"It really explores the gamut of what Christmas can be about: dealing with dysfunction, dealing with the joy, the festivities, the sleigh rides, the crazy shoppers," Gold says.
While the play is a far cry from Bob Cratchit rocking Tiny Tim in his arms, traditional Christmas songs do jingle alongside the show's original music, and some sentimental scenes balance the quirky ones. The clichéd message in the madness: Christmas is found within your heart. (Awww ... )
That unavoidable holiday spirit has Gold reflecting on his family's Christmas traditions. The Denver native, who starred in the FAC's Music Man production earlier this year, says he grew up with classic Christmases: snow, mountains, a huge family.
"Our house was the house that was lit up," he says, boasting that the family won the Denver Post Christmas lighting contest one year. "Our last name is Gold, and we were 'The House of Gold.'"
Reminiscing about his first holiday away from home, Gold says that when he moved to New York to pursue acting at 33 (he lived there for 11 years and performed in multiple Broadway shows), he landed a role in 42nd Street in Miami.
"I had not only my first Christmas away from home, but I had it with my friends on the beach in tank tops and shorts. And I'm not afraid to say this, I cried and cried and cried," he says. "It was the antithesis of what Christmas was to me. I walked back to my hotel room with sand in my shorts, and I was just sobbing because I wanted to be at home with my sweater and my family."