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Connecticut Theater

"And the Family Gathers…"
The Spinning Wheel Inn, Redding

What better way to launch the holiday season than to visit an old Connecticut country inn-Redding's Spinning Wheel, to be exact! The stage is set: fireplaces, beamed ceilings, festive lights, seasonal drinks and dinners-and of course a holiday show.

But what a special show it is! The Randazzos, a gifted writing/directing team, have woven together the traditional and the innovative to fashion this Yuletide offering.-"And the Family Gathers…" Five performers and pianist make the most of the Randazzos' material.

It is indeed a collaborative effort, as theater is wont to be. Karen Randazzo, who has written the book, also directs. Peter Randazzo, as musical director, is responsible for several of the musical arrangements, sharing those honors with Brad Blake and Mark Holleran. Raymond Michaud has turned the traditional "Twelve Days of Christmas" into a delightful parody. And Peter Randazzo has also written the music and lyrics for "Why Can't We Get Along at Christmas"-a strong piece which gets at the nub of this Christmas story.

This family tale of misunderstandings, barbed comments, and ultimate reconciliations plays itself out through song and dialogue. A crotchety old man makes life difficult for his children, who in turn harbor jealousies of each other. He greets the daughter returning from overseas exuberantly, while ignoring the devoted son and daughter-in-law who care for him. But, you've guessed it, things ultimately turn around.

Since it is the Yule season, we must expect a positive message.

But corny and simplified though this message is, all is forgiven when we consider the delivery. In the intimacy of the Spinning Wheel dining room, "And the Family Gathers…" becomes a personal experience. Joyous-and sometimes poignant-melodies fill the air, sweeping around the guests. While we savor the roast beef or chicken (or salmon), or berry pie, we are engulfed by the ringing notes of "It's a Wonderful World" or a medley of the holiday favorites.

Some 17 performers and three pianists are involved in this show, with alternating casts playing in rotation. On the night we attended, Priscilla Squiers, Paul Hatrick, Anthony Festa, Bob Fallon, Beth Bria and pianist Tom Morris were in top form, responding beautifully to the musical arrangements of each piece. While there were appealing solo performances, it was the precise, carefully orchestrated company numbers which offered the most exhilarating moments. We can only assume that other cast combinations are of equal caliber.

This show runs all month, and offers just the right ingredients for getting into the holiday spirit.

-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 2, 2004

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