The Center Stage Community Theatre presents “A Nice Family Christmas” by Phil Olsen beginning today and running for the next three weekends until Dec. 17 at 604 W. Powell St. in Lebanon.
“A Nice Family Christmas” is the sequel to Olsen’s play, “A Nice Family Gathering,” where “Mom” struggles with her husband’s recent death while celebrating Thanksgiving, which is the first family gathering since his passing. “A Nice Family Christmas” is set three years after the conclusion of the first play and revolves around Christmas Eve, where family drama thrives with the re-introduction of the cast from the first play.
Richelle Lutz, director of the Center Stage show and portrayer of “Grandma” in the show, commented that the play provides a comedic break from the typical hustle and bustle of everyday life for audiences, and she holds immense respect for the show as she has participated in the production more than once in the past. Lutz acts as the director, but she also portrays “Grandma,” a zany character known for her snarky comments and innuendos, and in “A Nice Family Christmas,” she also becomes known for her dance moves.
“Grandma comes up from Florida to be with the family,” Lutz said. “Nobody knows she’s showing up. They haven’t seen her in years. She’s in Sun City, Florida. She comes home to a family of a son and his wife are split up, another son and his girlfriend are split up, and the daughter has a secret that she knows nothing about and mom’s just a mess to begin with. Grandma thinks she’s going to solve everything.”
Lutz was a vital addition to the cast of “Four Old Broads,” which ran for three weekends in October and secured multiple sold-out shows during its debut week at the theater, and Lutz hopes that a similar turnout will be received for “A Nice Family Christmas.” One way that Lutz strove to ensure the play was entertaining and appreciated by audiences was by focusing on the casting first and foremost, which led her to select herself for the role of “Grandma” after seeing numerous auditions.
“I have played this part before, and she is such an intrinsic part of the play,” Lutz said. “When I did auditions, I was very, very careful to look for somebody that I thought could really, really pull this off.”
Lutz stated that she has been entertaining audiences since she was 13-years-old, when she began singing the National Anthem during the Memorial Day service at Frankfort Middle School, and she expects her experience to shine through the character of “Grandma,” who Lutz described as worthy of admittance to an insane asylum for her consistent antics throughout the play.
Lutz also focused on the casting of returning actors that portrayed the characters in “A Nice Family Gathering” at Center Stage in the past. Aaron Moon, who plays Michael, and Jada Cannelle, who plays Jill, will return to center stage as the married duo with a tumultuous dynamic.
Lutz expressed that the Center Stage Community Theatre facility sports 50 seats and was established in 1994, but the theater has begun to blossom over the past few years with upgrades and new interest from the community, which she attributes to the atmosphere the theater holds during its productions.
“It’s a tiny little theater, and we have like 50 people, but it’s so warm and welcoming, and it’s kind of nice to have a small area to work in,” Lutz said. “You feel a little bit closer to the people out in the audience.”
Center Stage was nominated for 22 Encore awards for the 2023 season in October, and “A Nice Family
Christmas” will be the first show up for consideration for the 2024 season. Lutz stated that due to the production quality and the increased exposure alongside the recognition the theater has begun to receive has helped introduce a larger audience to the artform of acting and theater in Lebanon.
“Last show, we had so many people that came in and said ‘we’ve never been here before,’” Lutz said. “Last show, we had people that came back to see that show twice.”
For the first time at Center Stage, audience members will be invited to purchase season tickets for the 2024 season, which is expected to host four to five shows throughout the year, including comedies, mysteries and much more to entertain audiences.
“If anybody wants to talk about season tickets, when they come into the show, ask at the box office how they can receive season tickets,” Lutz said. “We usually do a first of the year, like a winter, spring, summer’s usually open, fall and winter.”
Recently, Center Stage received a $10,000 donation from the Community Foundation of Boone County, which Lutz stated would likely be utilized to purchase and install a curtain for the stage. The project, spearheaded by President Mary Zurfas and Treasurer David Wines, will allow for the stage to be adorned with a properly-fitting curtain that will open and close mechanically, and the left and right sides of the curtains may open and close separately from the others, opening a realm of possibilities for future productions requiring spaces for dedicated scenes.
“Our President, Mary Zurfas, is just the greatest lady I’ve ever met, and it’s been her dream for us to have a curtain forever,” Lutz said. “It’s a short, small stage, so if we bought a curtain that didn’t work right, you’d take up half the stage. She has designed in her head along with our Treasurer, David Wines, … have designed a curtain that will open in the center and come all the way out to the sides of the stages to where it won’t even be on stage.”
“A Nice Family Christmas” will debut today, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at Center Stage Community Theatre at 604 W. Powell St. in Lebanon. The show will run for the next three weekends until Dec. 17. Shows are open Fridays and Saturdays beginning at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays beginning at 2:30 p.m.
“Come on out and see us,” Lutz said. “We’re just a lot of fun.”
Tickets may be purchased online at CenterStageTheatre.com for $17 for general admission or $15 for seniors and students. Tickets may also be reserved by calling 765-894-5587.