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The music soars even when the story sags in Theatre IV's "King Island Christmas"

Fit for a King


Several days after seeing Theatre IV's holiday musical, "King Island Christmas," I'm still humming pieces of melody from the show. I've also ordered a CD of the show for my theater-buff father-in-law. A copy of this CD was included in my press kit for the show, but I may never see it again: My kids purloined it and now they listen to it at bedtime. Which is all to say that this only-songs show is full of some great music, music that tells the true story of villagers living on a remote Alaskan island and who work together to overcome adversity. From the plaintive "Waiting" to the stirring "Over the Mountain," composer David Friedman's songs are uniformly well-crafted with catchy melodies that easily overcome the obstacle of simplistic lyrics (written by Deborah Brevoort). Though these are new compositions, they seem cut from the same cloth as the crowd-pleasing show tunes of years ago (the calypso-inflected "Salmon & Seal" being perhaps the only departure). As dynamically performed by director Steve Perigard's cast, this score blossoms into a rousing production full of superlative performances. With music this good, "King Island" could be a classic holiday tale to rival stalwarts such as "A Christmas Carol" if it weren't for a story that climaxes too early and too quickly. We've barely met these villagers who cling to a small rocky outpost in the Bering Sea before we're told their supply ship can't reach them. Besides provisions for the winter, the ship also carries the island's priest, Father Carroll (Fernando Rivadeneira). Motivated by the specter of spending the holidays without their priest, the villagers undertake the huge task of climbing over the island's mountains to meet the ship on the other side. The entirety of this central struggle is resolved in the song "Over the Mountain," sung at the show's halfway mark. After this, plotwise the rest of the show is an occasionally tiresome postscript. Thankfully, Rivadeneira and Jerold Solomon, who plays the village leader, Ooloranna, have enough star power and vocal charisma to keep things interesting even when the story sags. Also turning in a strong performance is Brenda Parker as Mary, a young mother who comforts her son with the ballad, "The Gift of Trouble." Most surprising in this production is the talented chorus of kids that supports the action. Truth be told, child actors are usually a distraction, because even the best of them stiffen up on stage. "King Island" sports an especially fluid crew, led by the forthright Blake Powers as Mary's son, Little Eir, and waifish Hannah Miller, who personifies the walrus-skinned boat that the islanders use to reach their supply ship. There are eight other children in the ensemble, and they are professional and poised, each and every one. Director Perigard has done a fine job of filling out the action of this show, which is usually performed as an oratorio. Set designer Greg Hillmar effectively evokes the dramatic landscape of King Island, and the lighting design of Lynne Hartman adds texture to many scenes. Though it's lacking in dramatic tension, Theatre IV's latest still proves a holiday charmer.

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