By Lisa Lyons Special to Desert Local News, Theatre Critic
While it might not become an instant holiday classic like It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story, the new musical “Looking for Christmas,” now playing at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theater at San Diego’s Old Globe, should find a cozy home in community theaters across the country for years to come.
Country music superstar Black’s folksy storytelling is well suited to this story of a battle-scarred Army veteran named Mike. (Played with great charm and considerable vocal prowess by Broadway’s Aaron C. Finley) who is facing his first Christmas at home following a tragic incident in Afghanistan that has deprived him of his peace of mind and made him question his faith?
His best friend Doug (gentle giant Deleon Dallas) and his wife Alissa (sweetly sung by Syndee Winters) have their own tender love story that serves as the counterpoint to the main action of Ellie’s fervid desire for her father to see her as Caspar the Wise Man in the church Christmas pageant. She is joined in the Christmas Eve production by neighborhood children Joanie, Jimmy, Billy, and Melissa, (played respectively by Veda Cienfuegos, Giovanni Cozic, Bobby Chiu and Reese McCulloch). What this young crew may lack in experience they make up for with high spirited enthusiasm and professionalism.
When Mike’s despondency threatens to derail both the pageant and a Christmas party, it takes Doug and Ellie to light the way home.
A strong ensemble features excellent supporting performances by Scott Richard Foster, Reanne Acasio, Bryant Martin, Katie Sapper, Lauren Livia Muehl, Jonathan Sangster, and Lauren Ellen Thompson.
The technical team at the Globe knows how to utilize the little gem-like space of the White, and keeps things simple and charming. Director Kent Nicholson keeps the action moving along (never easy with a stage full of kids) and choreographer Wendy Seyb created entertaining yet straightforward dance moves.
As usual, the in-house backstage band, led by Matt Hinkley and Cody Owen Stine, provides solid accompaniment to the 16 original songs by Black and the book by Black and James D. Sasser. The rest of the technical team includes scenic designer Sean Fanning, costume designer Charlotte Devaux, lighting designer Rui Rita, and sound designer Leon Rothenberg.
The ongoing dilemma of how to best support our returning vets – who are often damaged inside while appearing outwardly whole – won’t be solved by this charming tale but it shows us how the light from a star in the East can often help heal the world.
“Looking for Christmas” runs through December 31. Tickets start at $39 and can be obtained at the Old Globe box office, or by visiting www.TheOldGlobe.org