Arts & Culture

Holiday retro: Broadway Center hams up the holidays with “Ye Olde Merry Holiday (TV) Spectacular”

The cast of the Broadway Center’s TV holiday show includes Casi Wilkerson, Joey Jewell, center, as the host and Matt Vail as a guest star.
The cast of the Broadway Center’s TV holiday show includes Casi Wilkerson, Joey Jewell, center, as the host and Matt Vail as a guest star. Courtesy

Are you old enough to remember Perry Como’s TV holiday special? Actually, forget that — are you old enough to remember TV? You know, that entertainment on a screen that you didn’t control yourself? That mix of comedy, song and dance, with ads that were almost as entertaining as everything else? If you are, then Tacoma’s Broadway Center has a show just for you: its very own self-produced “Ye Olde Merry Holiday (TV) Spectacular” this weekend at Theater on the Square.

Can’t remember life before smartphones? Then you might discover some new jokes, says director Chris Nardine.

“Tacoma has a lot of traditional holiday fare — ‘The Nutcracker’ and so on — so we thought, ‘What can we do that’s different?,’ ” said Nardine of why he and Brett Carr, asked to come up with a holiday show for the Broadway Center, decided on a retro TV theme. “(For us), growing up there were all of those 1950s to 1970s variety holiday specials on TV that Andy Williams, Perry Como and almost everybody had. We thought there would be an audience out there that remembered those shows, and this would be something new and special for them. … And for younger people, hopefully they’ll know the music and get the jokes.”

As Nardine and Carr rehearse the show, it’s clear they have a veteran Tacoma cast who know exactly what the whole thing is about. Playing themselves as characters like the TV show host (Joey Jewell), the stage director (Michael Starslee), the guests (Casi Wilkerson, Eric Clausell, Matt Vail) and the backup vocalists, the actors ham their way through rehearsal, having just as much fun as Nardine hopes the audience will.

Jewell, playing the show’s host, winds up a corny rendition of Sinatra’s “You Make Me Feel So Young,” sung in smooth crooner style, and segues into the next talk segment. He breaks off the spiel to criticize Michael Starslee for not turning the prompt cards fast enough, then holding them upside down.

“Were you valedictorian in cue-card school? Out! Out!” he shouts.

Starslee turns to the audience with a mock-dejected face and slouches off. Meanwhile, Jewell, as the quintessential suave-with-nasty-side host, gets into a song-and-dance routine with “guest star” Matt Vail that includes every cliched step in the book: doe-si-does, crossovers, chorus line step-outs. Vail steps big with his left foot — then another left. Everyone laughs.

“I’ve just gotta remember to walk with my feet,” quips Vail.

“It’ll look a lot better in a tuxedo,” punchlines Jewell.

Although Carr and Nardine have a script, the actors come up with a lot of the jokes, adding to the impromptu TV feeling. They’ll be in high ’60s formal wear, backed by a set imitating a retro TV studio, complete with some vintage cameras lent by a local cable station. Screens on the back will project the original TV advertisements for things like Schick razor blades, while live actors ham up the gee-whiz dialogue in front. There’s a seven-piece band for the songs, which include golden oldies like “Santa Baby,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” along with a special comic appearance by a ‘foreign opera star’ (Barry Johnson).

“The audience (can be) from ages one to 92,” sums up Nardine. “It should be a fun family affair.”

Rosemary Ponnekanti: 253-597-8568, @rose_ponnekanti

“Ye Olde Merry Holiday (TV) Spectacular”

Who: Broadway Center, directed by Chris Nardine with Brett Carr.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Dec. 18) and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Theatre on the Square, 915 Broadway, Tacoma.

Tickets: From $19.

Information: 253-591-5894, broadwaycenter.org.

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