Circa ’21 brings a very special “Winter Wonderland” for this holiday season
The new holiday production at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse, “Winter Wonderland” is a special gift in more ways than one to its writer, cast and crew.
In this heartwarming musical tale (written by Chef Bootlegger and frequent actor Brad Hauskins), a father wants to celebrate an old-fashioned Christmas like those of his youth. This leads him and his family, first to a historic Christmas tree farm, and then on a magical journey to the year 1921, where he learns that while remembering the past is important, the best way to keeping the tradition is to enjoy Christmas. here.
Hauskins’ musical revue was originally presented to Circa during the holidays of 2000, and although its new version retains the title, setting, and characters from the old show, it is staged with a new script. and a new score of old favorites arranged and orchestrated by the author, Laura Hammes and Mason Moss.
As Hauskins explained of this new show, you’ll hear a lot of traditional Christmas music, “but a little different from what we did 20 years ago. And all the songs are songs of that  back then, but they’re not necessarily all Christmas themed – there’s Irving Berlin and other songs that we kind of incorporated into the narration, ”he said.
“Winter Wonderland” has the exact same cast as last year (in an unseen version), when it was in rehearsals for about a week before Circa closed in early November 2020 due to COVID, not reopening until the 17th. March 2021.
The actors filmed several scenes and songs, so they might have a video reference to resume rehearsals this fall. Bobby Becher, whose wife Ashley is in the cast and has served as a dance captain, said the video has proven to be very helpful.
“Going back up some things and having some things that needed to be adjusted, collaboration was really at the center of this process,” he said on Wednesday.
“For us there was a lot of emotion, obviously,” Becher said of the 2020 show’s cancellation. “The script was really, really relevant to 2020. And coming back with the adjustments that were made, it becomes really relevant for 2021.
“We literally go through the same steps across the stage, in the rehearsal studio,” he said. “It reminds me of a lot of memories.”
The direction is Sean McCall, former artistic director of the Old Creamery Theater in Amana, Iowa, who also directed the Rock Island theater comedy “Shear Madness” in 2016. The cast of 10 includes the first performers of Circa ’21 Wrigley Mancha (Quad City “Matilda: The Musical” from Music Guild, Mark McGinn (The Drowsy Chaperone from Music Guild) and Cameryn Bergthold, a local eighth grader.
Seven familiar talents return to the stage: Ashley Mills Becher (“Saturday Night Fever”), Bobby Becher (“Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn”), Derrick Bertram (“Newsies”), Erica Lee Bigelow (“Disenchanted”), Savannah Bay Strandin ( “Beehive: The Sixties Musical”), Tristan Tapscott (“Kinky Boots”) and Krianna Walljasper (“Annie”).
The circle has come full circle in Circa
It’s now a full time for Becher, especially as a member of the summer’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’ cast, which also had to be rescheduled from its initial opening in March 2020. “It really started there. ‘strange year for Circa, and we have shown this to people who have never seen it before and we can move on a little bit. So there is a lot of emotion for us to do it, ”he said.
Hauskins has lived with the series for over 20 years, noting that in 2000 it was a whole different world back then – not only before COVID, but before 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bitter political polarization of recent years. The most innocent period featured a happier and more innocent “winter wonderland”.
“The 2000 show was kind of a Disney merry-go-round,” he said. “These characters go to a magical place and they experience these periods of time. They were having fun wherever they went; everyone was upbeat and happy.
This version is more about hope and perseverance, Hauskins said. In 2020, they were gearing up to open to an audience of just 50, so that didn’t call for a big cast and super dazzling production.
“There is always this need for people to have hope,” he said of today. ” That’s what it’s about.
In the story, the father looks at a photo from 100 years ago and says, “It sounds like happiness to me,” Hauskins said. “It looks like a world without problems.”
Of course, people in 1921 also had their own challenges, especially with the emergence of another global pandemic (Spanish flu) and the end of World War I, he noted.
“Winter Wonderland” does not tackle current issues head-on, but they are an unspoken subtext.
“There are lyrics in the song ‘Winter Wonderland’ that weigh heavily in the show: ‘To fearlessly face the plans we’ve made,’” said Hauskins. “And for me, that was the hook of what I’m trying to say. This is what it means to live today. We make plans, we celebrate this holiday despite everything that is wrong and we face our projects without fear. It’s a really fitting statement for what we’re trying to do.
“For me, the reveal of 2020 for me too, and still today, what we have been missing and what we lack now is the ability to feel comfortable – to wake up in the morning and know that nothing is going to happen, “he said. “I think about where we went from 2020 to 2021, thinking of all those people who have had this vacation structure in their life every year, who were suddenly destroyed by COVID. “
On the show, there is no mention of COVID, but having the show means people can do things they couldn’t do last year, Hauskins said.
“Maybe it’s part of that process – because a lot of people have missed things, and when we miss things we despair of getting them back to normal,” he said.
At one point in the series, Bobby’s character says, “A lot of things were broken in the last year” and “it’s about as deep as we feel resentment or anger about it,” Hauskins said. “When can we move on? And oddly enough, they retreat.
Embrace hope to survive
Becher noted that hope is key to getting through times like this, and the show reveals how three different families face the holidays. “Winter Wonderland” is the first show he participates in where Ashley actually plays his wife.
They were very happy to be back in front of a full audience.
“It’s a lot more personal for us as a band, and for my character in particular,” Bobby said. “I feel lucky to have been prepared. It’s still pretty cool for a lot of people; the cast certainly, there’s a little silver lining when something is taken away from you – when you get it back, you can enjoy it a lot more.
“Especially when you do a show about appreciating the things that were taken away, it all feels like it culminates in a very meaningful and important process for us to be a part of right now, and hopefully for the audience. also, “he said. noted.
McCall said this holiday show is more meaningful (compared to other holiday titles), given the past 20 months.
“For all of us, any theater artist, last year we thought we were coming back to people after eight months away,” he said. “I only came back on stage this summer. The thing about this show that’s so great, last year Brad was so specific to the year that we were in and feeling, and he did a great job of moving that forward into 2021.
“Brad did a great job of making this feel relevant and relevant today,” McCall said. “It’s so perfectly 2021, or Circa ’21, that I think anyone who sees it, it’ll tell them about the holidays.”
When Bobby’s character says, “I want to do it all on Christmas,” everyone can relate to, the director said.
It’s also very deep now, since Hauskins’ mother passed away a few months ago, at age 81, not from COVID. The show gives new meaning to the run-down “Auld Lang Syne” – “We’re going to take another cup of cuteness and move on,” he said. “We’re going to start over. “
“This idea of loss, for a lot of us, it’s not just people we’ve lost,” Hauskins said. COVID had a lot to do with her mother’s death, as her life revolved around visiting family and friends.
“She was just locked in a small apartment and she was too old to adjust and adapt,” he said. “For me, it’s a loss that I think – we all have these things that we’ve lost, even though they’re loosely related. Some people have lost their families to politics – divided and torn families who don’t talk to each other.
“Is this a result of COVID? So every person in our audience will have lost something, ”said Hauskins. To put on a big shiny and shiny show is not the point now, but for people to come together, appreciate what they have, and fearlessly face the plans they have made.
The show strikes a balance, by not letting people grieve or feel sorry for themselves, and at the same time, by not being reckless, cowardly and fanciful, Hauskins said.
“I just want people to get off this show, get up in the morning and I know that won’t be what it was, but I’m going to make plans today,” he said.
McCall recalled how great collaborative theater is, with every role on and off stage contributing to the overall product. “It all comes together and we are only as big as our weakest link,” he said.
“Winter Wonderland” will be presented until December 29, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:45 p.m., Sundays at 5:45 p.m. and Wednesday mornings at 1:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $ 53.55 for the dinner-and- the show’s productions and $ 46.73 for the mornings on the plate.
Reservations are available through the Circa ’21 box office, 1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island, or by calling 309-786-7733 ext. 2.