One merely has to glance at the Billboard Hot 100 to discern that the cannon of holiday music has remained squarely frozen in the 20th century.
Half of the top 10 tracks listed in the pop culture catalogue this week were first recorded more than a quarter century ago, with the average date of original release among the five landing somewhere in the tail end of the Johnson Administration. And that late 1960s date is generously buoyed by the current number one single in all the land: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which first met listeners’ ears in 1994.
That tired collection of yuletide tunes is precisely what propelled local artist and choreographer Christopher Page-Sanders to create the newest production to take the digital stage at the Vintage Theatre in Aurora.
“I knew there was all of this wonderful traditional holiday music that I didn’t want to use,” Page-Sanders said. “And it’s not that I don’t like it — I love the holidays — but I wanted to give a current outlook on what the holidays mean to everybody.”
He spent a week earlier this fall combing through umpteen holiday rarities and b-sides to prepare a slate of musical numbers that often see more dust than tinsel. The result was a 16-track bill of largely under-appreciated songs spun into a roughly hour-long concert with a loose narrative to string them together.
“I hope that it is something that you could literally put on and let it play in the background and enjoy while you’re with family, while you’re cooking or while you’re having your sixth cup of eggnog,” Page-Sanders said.
The cast — composed of Randy Chalmers, Isabella Duran, Elisha Horne, Traci Kern and Mary Louise Lee — were backed by a live band led by Music Director J. Aaron Brooks-Roberts. Lee Ann Scherlong served as assistant director, and Jennifer Schmitz managed the stage.
Still, holiday music cognoscenti will no doubt recognize a handful of the tunes, such as Bing Crosby’s “I’ll be home for Christmas,” Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” and another December standard that even Page-Sanders couldn’t escape despite his best efforts.
“I mean, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,’ I feel like it’s had its time in the sun, everybody sings it, you can’t avoid it, and I felt like it didn’t need to be sung again,” he said. “And the more I tried to avoid it, the more it kept staring me back in the face because those lyrics are exactly the message of the show.”
While rooted in the ubiquitous credos of the season, St. Louis, Missouri native Page-Sanders said he wanted that message to be a nod to the ad hoc families many artists like him have had to form during the holidays while sequestered on tour over the years.
“I created family and community with those other dancers when we were off doing ‘Granny Dances To A Holiday Drum,’ or a production of ‘The Nutcracker’ or whatever other holiday production we were off doing,” he said. “For many artists, the holiday times aren’t always joyous, and I know for 2020 this holiday season hasn’t been the most joyous one. But it’s also been filled with a lot of love coming from family, friends, partners, relationships, and lovers, and I wanted this production to be filled with love.”
Of course, the show had to be tailored to the solitary era that 2020 spawned. The five-person ensemble was outfitted with so-called singer’s masks — face coverings outfitted with a small prop to keep the cloth further away from a performer’s lips while still covering them — from Littleton-based company No Spit Sherlock. The cast members were required to wear them whenever they were within 6 feet of one another on stage. The group also agreed to quarantine themselves as a unit leading up to the recorded performances last week.
Those modifications were a small price to pay to get any form of theater in and out of the Vintage this holiday season, according to Bernie Cardell, the Vintage’s artistic director.
“Just because we’re in a pandemic doesn’t mean that we can’t produce theater of some kind, and I think people need some kind of connection,” Cardell said. “Theater provides connection … and being able to provide even a show like this can give people something.”
Cardell lauded Page-Sanders’ quick efforts to create an original show when it became apparent that producers wouldn’t be able to secure streaming rights for the theater’s originally slated holiday productions of David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries.”
“What a beautiful job he did with it,” Cardell said of Page-Sanders’ new holiday brain child. “I think it’s very smart because there are 10,000 things out there you can watch or use to find the standard Christmas holiday music. And not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I thought it was nice we had some different music in here.”
Tickets to the Digital performance of the show are expected to be available through early January.
“From Vintage, With Love”
Available digitally anytime through at least Jan. 3. Ticket information can be found at vintagetheatre.com/fromvintagewithlove. Tickets are $20. Once payment is remitted, attendees will receive a YouTube link to the pre-recorded performance in their email inbox. Run time is approximately 56 minutes.