“Celebration” A Sensation

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Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical, “Celebration,” has been on my bucket list long before bucket list was a thing. It opened in 1969 and I’ve been listening to the original cast album (now CD) for all 47 of those years. I’ve loved every minute of it and now  New Line Theatre has finally answered my prayers and brought it to our local theatre scene.

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Kent Coffel as Potemkin adds the signature glitter to the Jones/Schmidt creation, “Celebration” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Tom Jones himself has said that the show should never have been a Broadway show- more likely the success would have been sweeter had it been off-Broadway or further. Reminiscent of their world-wide hit from almost ten years before, “The Fantasticks,” it has as lot of their signature music, the throwing of the glitter, the very similar transition from First Act to Second and bitter mixed with sweet.

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Kent Coffel, Zachary Allen Farmer and Larissa White in New Line’s “Celebration.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Based on folklore and allegory from several countries but based primarily on the controversial book, “The Golden Bough” by Sir James George Frazer, “Celebration” is an exploration of the tales of winter and summer, old and young and the inevitable passage of time that naturally follows. A young orphan meets the wise yet slightly corrupt Potemkin and, clinging to his “piece of the sun” as symbolized, originally, by a crystal from a church window (although this new version doesn’t mention the stained glass), he   attempts to maneuver his way through pain and torment and bring himself into the light.

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Larissa White and Sean Michael sing the cynical “I’m Glad…” second act opener during “Celebration” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

He soon meets Angel who is under the thumb of the “richest man in the Western World,” William Rosebud Rich. As these characters, joined by a group of Revelers, approach New Year’s Eve, we have all the components of old succumbing to young as winter steps aside for summer. Being an allegory, it’s a plot that must be experienced to be appreciated. Add the bouncy, cynical, often jazzy score and you’ve got the makings of yet another musical that fits perfectly into the black box of the Marcelle that is the home to New Line.

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The Revelers and cast celebrate during New Line’s production of “Celebration.” Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Kent Coffel is a superb Potemkin. He leads the Revelers in the opening title number as they weave through the audience then moves on to the desperate “Survive” and then to the cynical “Not My Problem.” As the narrator of the piece, he is always popping up to either smooth over situations or stir the pot. Sean Michael is a sensitive Orphan as he sings the plaintive “Orphan In The Storm,” the revelation of “My Garden” and then the beautiful first act closing duet, “Love Song.”

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Sean Michael as Orphan is reprimanded by Mr. Rich, played by Zachary Allen Farmer in “Celebration” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Sharing that “Love Song” is Angel- a stunning performance by Larissa White in a role that combines hard as nails with naiveté. Opening the second act, another throw back to “The Fantasticks,” as they sing the sarcastic duet, “I’m Glad To See You’ve Got What You Want.” Rounding out the major cast is a solid and hilarious performance by New Line veteran, Zachary Allen Farmer as Mr. Rich. Making his entrance in a wheelchair pushed up a steep ramp by several panting and puffing revelers, a Trump-style wig adds a touch of reality to our fable. He sums up his current life with “Bored” and a cry for the return of his youth with “Where Did It Go?”

A tip of the hat to the energetic group of revelers who bring almost a touch of evil to the story. They include Colin Down, Sarah Dowling, Christopher Lee (really?). Todd Micali, Nellie Mitchell, Michelle Sauer and Kimi Short.

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Sean Michael listens to Kent Coffel as the Revelers look on in “Celebration” at New Line Theatre. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

The only problem with the entire evening is mainly the fault of Mr. Jones and Mr. Schmidt and their inability to end the show properly after 47 years. Although several rewrites have taken place over the years, it still ends abruptly- this production adds to that glaring lack of denouement as the actors are scrambling off stage as the clock strikes twelve and the New Year begins. Then a black out and the audience doesn’t respond to closing applause until the stage lights come on and the cast appears for curtain call.

Sarah Nelson leads a strong band which brings out the clever and exciting score. Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor co direct and set the mysterious and sometimes eerie feel of the story beautifully to stage. Rob Lippert brings a spare but effective set to “Celebration” and Sarah Porter’s costumes are inspired. Kenneth Zinkl provides a nice lighting design that complements the set and story.

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Zachary Allen Farmer as Rich and Larissa White as Angel during the finale of “Celebration” at New Line. Photo: Jill Ritter Lindberg

I have waited over 40 years for this and I am more than pleased. Mr. Miller informed me that the last known professional or semi-professional production of “Celebration” appears to have been 32 years ago. No wonder I’ve been starving in the Jones/Schmidt desert for years. It’s your chance now- don’t let another few decades go by. Catch “Celebration” at New Line Theatre through October 22nd. Contact them at http://www.newlinetheatre.com for tickets or more information.

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One Response to ““Celebration” A Sensation”

  1. “Celebration” A Sensation | Stage Door St. Louis – Sean Michael Says:

    […] https://stagedoorstl.com/2016/10/05/celebration-a-sensation/ […]

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