Have you ever wondered how some of our Christmas songs – the ones we’ve known since the cradle – came to be? Longtime theater journalist, radio host, and critic Julio Martinez wondered the same thing. But when this creative connoisseur of fine music wondered, he didn’t stop there. Soon, he had published “The Eight Plays of Christmas,” a book of radio plays digging into the origins of some of our Christmas classics. The Group Rep quickly realized that his stories would be the perfect holiday gift for its audiences – and so CHRISTMASTIME ORIGINS was born. Adapted from Martinez’s book and directed by Kathleen Delaney, CHRISTMASTIME ORIGINS shares the hidden stories behind four of everyone’s favorite holiday songs – and a little bit about Charles Dickens too.
I’ll bet that you never suspected that “Jingle Bells” was originally written as a minstrel drinking ditty by James Lord Pierpont, a serious musical composer with serious musical aspirations – or that there really was a one-horse sleigh and a Miss Fanny Bright doomed to find herself in a snow bank. For that matter, did you know that “Silver Bells” was originally “Tinkle Bells?” Three guesses why the name was changed.
The story behind “White Christmas,” a Hollywood favorite, was equally fascinating. It seems that a certain composer named Irving Berlin had a story idea for a film about a holiday hotel in Connecticut open only at Christmas – with the film graced by a number of Berlin’s songs. But writing a song specifically celebrating Christmas was a little difficult for this Jewish composer. Berlin was flummoxed but finally pulled an old melody from his spider web-covered files to do the honors. When most of the lyrics for the big number at the end of the film were done, he realized that he didn’t know what he would call the tune. Serendipity prevailed when the producer’s secretary happened to mention that Christmas meant “white” to her. The movie was a huge success, and the song made famous by the likes of Bing Crosby was destined to become one of the most recorded tunes of all time. “Silent Night” grew from an equally serendipitous conjunction of events – but you’ll have to see the show to appreciate just how this Christmas classic came about. And let’s not forget that a fascinating homage to the origins of Dicken’s “The Christmas Carol” is included in the production.
CHRISTMASTIME ORIGINS is a delightful series of radio plays peopled by a very talented cast including Michael Gabiano, Sheena Georges, Kelly Goode, Doug Haverty, Matthew Hoffman, James Lemire, Kayley Stallings, Mark Stancato, Diane Vincent, and Leslie Young. Their lovely voices blend together to form an elegant ode to the holidays. What better way to welcome this special time of year than with musical director Paul Cady’s beautiful melodies coupled with Bert Emmett’s set design, John Lucewich’s lighting, Sammy Strittmatter’s sound, and Cheryl Crosland’s costumes. Especially during the current pandemic, this charming and uplifting show is entertainment at its best. The Group Rep also insures a safe space for its audiences: proof of vaccination and masks indoors at all times are required.
CHRISTMASTIME ORIGINS runs through January 2, 2022, with performances at 4 p.m. on Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Group Rep performs in the Lonny Chapman Theatre located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $20 (seniors and students $17). For information and reservations, call 818-663-5990 or go online.