As soon as you’ve wrapped your Thanksgiving feast, it’s officially time to get in the holiday spirit.
While some of you may have shrugged off a Christmas tune or the oodles of holiday offerings on Netflix to this point, you have absolutely no excuse not to be jolly now.
Fortunately, you have some help in the form of Riverside Center for the Performing Arts’ latest show.
“A Riverside Family Christmas” and all of its seasonal cheer débuted yesterday and runs until Dec. 27.
“This show has a lot of heart,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director at Riverside and the director of the show. “We want people to follow their hearts home to Riverside. So many people can’t travel to be with their families this holiday season. So, we want you to be a part of our family.”
A’Hearn describes the show as being chock-full of the traditions, values and warmth of Christmas. And, yes, there will be tunes galore spanning seasonal favorites and standards like “White Christmas,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Joy to the World.”
“A Riverside Family Christmas” was completely concocted and written by A’Hearn, company manager James Davis and the cast, with choreography by Stephanie Wood. A’Hearn notes the show wouldn’t have been possible without sponsorships from the City of Fredericksburg’s Economic Development & Tourism department, the Stafford Economic Development Authority, Tim Pohanka of Pohanka Hyundai and the Riverside Foundation for the Performing Arts.
The story follows a singing Riverside family, who would usually be touring, but has their tour canceled at the hands of the pandemic. But, as the adage goes, “the show must go on,” so they host a show in a massive barn. The barn doors are opened onstage at Riverside for all to enjoy.
In total, the show features a cast of eight, each taking their turns at solos amid duets and group numbers. To inspire the flow and content of the show, A’Hearn had the cast partake in an inspiring creative activity.
“He asked the cast to bring in things that reminded them of some of their memories from Christmases past,” said Carson Eubank, a member of the cast and music director of the show. “For many, those Christmas memories came from prior shows at Riverside, too. So, the show is full of nostalgia and things that are truly meaningful to so many.”
For Eubank—and, quite frankly, for virtually every other actor throughout the world—this has been a year like no other. Eubank, whose past music director credits at Riverside include “Annie” and “Mamma Mia” among others, was slated to support the “Bright Star” début in spring 2020. The show was postponed and is currently slated to open in mid-March 2021.
So, in the meantime, Eubank found an opportunity to hit the stage as an actor—for the first time since high school—starring in Riverside’s recent rendition of the two-person show “Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins.”
“I guess that has been the silver lining in this year ... I had been wanting to get back onstage and I have been so lucky to have an opportunity to do so,” he said.
In addition to Eubank, Riverside fans will notice a number of familiar faces in “A Riverside Family Christmas.” Among them are Andrea Kahane (who shared the stage with Eubank in “Souvenir”) and Kathy Halenda, who will serve as the family matriarch, emcee and narrator. “A Riverside Family Christmas” marks Halenda’s first show since wrapping up “Grease” in March.
“It’s hard to keep us theater folks down,” she said. “We’re a pretty optimistic bunch, but so many actors haven’t been working for months. We have to have hope, though. And, that is what this show is all about, too.”
Halenda notes that the show will be a little different than times past, capturing the same spirit, but with a smaller cast.
To adhere to all COVID-19-related mandates, all actors will maintain a 6-foot distance onstage and upward of a 12-foot buffer while singing. For audience members, theater capacity will be limited to 100 to 150 per show, masks will be required, and a number of safety measures are in place. Guests are advised to check out Riverside’s full slate of “Know Before You Go” measures at riversidedt.com.
In addition to providing a little hope and joy to locals this holiday season, Riverside plans to enter 2021 with a similar, positive spirit.
“We have to remain optimistic and hopeful ... it’s the only way to do it,” said A’Hearn. “There is a lot of promising information coming out, not only on a vaccine for COVID-19, but how regional theaters can continue to be such a valuable asset during these times. We’ve shown that we can do this and do it safely, and we’ll keep doing so.”