If you haven’t quite caught the holiday spirit yet, let’s change that.
Whether you’ve been a complete Grinch up to this point or you’ve simply bottled up all of your Christmas excitement to release it after Thanksgiving, there’s a new show at Riverside to bring us all oodles of joy.
The “Riverside Christmas Spectacular” kicked off Wednesday and runs through Dec. 29.
For Riverside loyalists, you may remember a Bing Crosby era-esque, uber-nostalgic Christmas spectacular back in 2017. That show ran for five weeks, attracted more than 10,000 attendees and remains the best-selling show in Riverside history.
While this year’s Spectacular is loaded with just as much holiday pizzazz, there are new tunes, new numbers and a totally different format.
Will this spectacular set a new Riverside attendance record? We shall see.
“This one will be done as somewhat of a modern, Christmas variety show or special,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director for Riverside. “It features all of your favorite Christmas songs, incredible choreography, wonderful voices and it’s basically a form of holiday-time comfort.”
A’Hearn, who makes an appearance in the show, co-wrote the “Riverside Christmas Spectacular” with local mainstay and Helen Hayes Award-winning actress, Sherri Edelen. Paul Rawlins crafted the musical arrangements.
With winter-y scenery galore, candy cane pillars bookending the sides of the stage and a band platform upstage (with a live orchestra!), this show boasts a generally peppy mix of tunes, carefully concocted choreography, stories and a few touching moments in between.
Your hostess for the affair is a familiar face. Kathy Halenda, whose Riverside credits span “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” to “Mamma Mia,” will emcee the experience.
“It’s a celebration of all the reasons we love Christmas and the magic it brings,” said Halenda. “At the end of the show, if people walk away with one thing, I hope it’s this: I hope they say, ‘I’m going to do a nice thing for someone today in the spirit of Christmas. I’m going to pay it forward.’ ”
Among the tunes you’ll hear performed by the cast of 25 are “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “O, Holy Night,” “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and “The Christmas Song.” The cast includes 10 principal singer/dancers, an ensemble of nine and a six-piece youth ensemble.
In addition to the vocal goods, a number of the pieces feature the choreography of Riverside veteran Stephanie Wood. Wood, who has either performed in or choreographed more than a dozen Riverside shows since 2013, has a couple of favorite numbers.
“There is a number called ‘Hot Chocolate’ ... it’s a big tap-dance number,” said Wood. “It’s almost like they are tap-dancing on an ice-skating rink, handing hot chocolate to kids to warm them up. And, of course, there is the ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,’ an ode, in my own style, to what the Radio City Rockettes perform each year.”
In total—compared to its 2017 spectacular, according to A’Hearn—there are nearly 10 new musical numbers, not including newly choreographed bits.
“There have been a number of changes.” said A’Hearn. “We think folks will laugh and cry. Laughter is such good medicine, and purging a few tears can be good, too. You’ll walk out reflecting on a beautiful Christmas ride.”