reviewed by Adam Crowe

Now that Thanksgiving 2019 is in the books, it is time to quickly move onto other holiday matters. At the Phoenix Theatre, that means it is time for Winston’s Big Day – A Very Phoenix Christmas 14. I anticipated a bit of variation to the Phoenix’s holiday tradition, as this year’s Christmas show’s sketches and songs all revolve around a particular character – Winston the Elf. Winston wants to leave Santa’s Workshop and achieve his dream of becoming a rock star. His friend Rudolph serves as his manager and biggest fan. The show pieces together several locally written vignettes, dotting Winston’s path from Elf to his big debut at FaLaLalapalooza.

Program notes indicate that director Chelsea Anderson, who also wrote many of the vignettes in the piece, created her concept and added writers and composers and then actors to the mix. I wish that the result has felt less scattered and (sometimes) uneven. Removing the irreverence and dark humor of some of the past Phoenix Christmases is no sin, so long as the show feels unified and entertaining. I left the theater wishing that the combining of Winston’s story and the writers’ vignettes was more uniformly successful.

Dave Pelsue, Ramon Hutchins and Andrea Heiden in a scene from Phoenix Theatre’s Winston’s Big Day.

On the plus side, the cast of eight was wonderfully entertaining. Dave Pelsue stars as Winston, with Ramon Hutchins as his pal Rudolph. The rest of the ensemble included Nathalie Cruz, Andrea Heiden, Jan Lucas, Pearl Scott Justin Sears-Watson and John Vessels. Every single performer was given more than one shining moment. Special mention goes to Vessels, who is a veritable Christmas treat every moment he is onstage, and to Jan Lucas and Nathalie Cruz, for some seriously funny celebrity impressions.

Zach Hunter has created a terrific set, with seasonal touches and a wonderful story book functionality that adapts to numerous locations and feels. Laura Glover’s lighting and Corbin Fritz’s sound enhance every moment. Penny Sornberger’s costumes and Danielle Buckel’s properties are also excellent. Original music and lyrics were composed by Paige Scott and Pelsue, and musical direction was provided by Jay Schwandt. Writers of this all original material also included J. Julian Christopher, Tom Horan, Jen Blackmer, Riti Sachdeva, and Zach Neiditch. The final vignette, written by Neiditch, was especially well done – by writer, director and cast.

While I don’t doubt that some audiences could find the whole to be a bit less than the sum of its parts, the production’s superior cast ultimately provides a lot of laughs and tugs a few heart strings. An entertaining splash of the Holidays is most definitely delivered!

A Very Phoenix Christmas 14 runs weekends through December 22nd. I urge you to go to the Phoenix website, as the show also features several dinner options that are outlined there. The Phoenix Cultural Centre is located at 705 North Illinois Street, in downtown Indianapolis. Ticket information can be found at www.PhoenixTheatre.org or by calling (317) 635-7529.

  • photo provided by Phoenix Theatre