Reviewer: ‘Night Before Christmas’ Fun Show for Young and Old

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

Shaughnessy Burns, Josephine Kirkman, Austin Bell, Amos Mouse, Emily, and Uncle Brierly dance around the Christmas tree.
Shaughnessy Burns, Josephine Kirkman, Austin Bell, Amos Mouse, Emily, and Uncle Brierly dance around the Christmas tree. Submitted

In the midst of holiday activities, make time to see this show. It's a clever script, well done, and will have the entire family laughing. It's the perfect way to initiate a season of good cheer. In many ways it can be said that this show is Atlantic Stage's gift to the community. It features young actors of considerable talent from the Atlantic Stage Young Company. This group of Socastee High, Academy of the Arts Science and Technology and Coastal Carolina University, infuse this hour long (no intermission) play with high energy and laughter. Slapstick mistaken identity and Santa himself make this the perfect introduction to live theatre for children as well. The show runs for one hour without intermission so that you can comfortably fit it into an afternoon of shopping or take young ones and not worry about a too-late bed time. (Evening performances end around 8:30)

The play was originally commissioned by Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo, Maryland, and a venerable fixture in the world of children's and family entertainment in the Washington , DC metro area. In 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, Ken Ludwig adds a few twists to the famous poem of the same name. The fun begins when Amos mouse informs us that indeed on Christmas Eve, a mouse is stirring—batter for Christmas cookies. We soon learn that Santa skipped this house the previous year. Amos and his best friend Emily, the little girl of the house, are soon off to find out why and in the process save Christmas for all of us. Everyone except Emily has dual roles in this production, a fun way to introduce mayhem and confusion that of course is sorted out in the end. Mindi Penn, Scenic Designer for this show, says that at the sold-out opening, children as young as two were transfixed by the show from beginning to end.

Director Todd McNerney, an associate professor of Theatre Arts at the College of Charleston, draws the best out of his young cast to provide us with an hour of laughter that tickles the funny bone of old and young alike.

Hugh Austin Bell (also Uncle Brierly) infuses Sir Guy, the villain of the plot, with over the top slapstick and bombastic pronouncements that are perfect for the role. Josephine Kirkman infuses Emily with a spunky good cheer that perfectly fits her role as foil to mouse Amos's antics. Kirkman is the youngest of the players, a high school sophomore in her first professional production and I'm sure we will see more of her on stage in the future. Shaughnessy Burns who plays Emily's friend, Mouse Amos (and Kansas Amos) is masterful in both of her roles. Burns adds just the right touch of attitude and her sense of comedic timing (for the verbal jokes and slapstick)is impeccable. Amos and Kansas Amos twin identity confusion adds to the fun in the play. The audience is never confused as to which one Burns is portraying. Burns uses a "twangy" accent for Kansas Amos that makes it easy for the audience to follow her sometimes rapid switches between timid Amos and the braver, feistier Kansas Amos. A vest helps, but it is her skill that makes the switch easy on our ears and eyes. Burns never misses a beat in the comedic presentation of both characters and at those places in the show when she is alone on stage, she commands the territory with the aplomb and grace of a seasoned professional, although this production is the CCU freshman's professional acting debut.

Daniel Keith provides onstage high jinks in his roles as Mulch (elf) and Wendell Sneed, and Santa himself. Jenna Mize injects the right level "attitude" and purpose to the quest to save Christmas in her roles as Calliope the elf and as Britannia Sneed.

This young cast is abetted un their efforts by a youthful production staff, including Maddi Penn as Stage Manager assisted by Addison Bruno and Lillian Shoji. As stage crew they gets in on the action with hilarious slapstick humor while they shift the props and turn the rotating elements to convert the cleverly designed set from a happy holiday home to Santa's workshop and back again in the course of the play.

One of the other things that makes this such a fun production and great for children as well as for adults is the interaction of cast and audience putting the audience right in the thick of the merriment. Of course this is not only a good introduction to theatre for the little ones, but it is also a chance to see some young talent in their early days. In a few years you may well see their names on Broadway marquees. We left the show smiling, relaxed and full of good cheer—what else could you want for a holiday show and your own holiday season.

'Twas The Night Before Christmas runs until Dec. 18, Thursday through Saturday nights starting at 7:30 p.m., and on Sundays the performance is at 3 p.m. The Atlantic Stage is located in the Myrtle Beach Mall.

Call 877.287.8587 for tickets, which range in price from $17.50-$27.50.