Quote of the Day: A Servants’ Christmas is a story of love, loss and acceptance. from Artistic Director Ron Peluso’s notes on directing A Servants’ Christmas at the History Theatre.
Artistic Director Ron Peluso began his long career with the History Theatre by directing the play A Servants’ Christmas. In 2004, he worked with the playwright John Fenn and composer David Lohman to develop it into a musical. It’s absolutely gorgeous. I loved the themes in this production – loss, grief, healing, traditions, and acceptance.
The setting is a home on Summit Avenue, St. Paul, December 1899. Angelina Warner (Erin Capello Kopp) has recently passed away, leaving a grieving husband and their two children. Mr. Warner (Eric Morris) doesn’t know what to do with his grief other than sink himself into his work. His children Anne (played by Anika Bradshaw for the performance I attended) and Richmond (Sullivan Cooper) try to get his attention and keep some traditions, but he pushes them away, or treats them like employees who need to study and work harder. They hire a new “2nd Girl” just before the holidays. Monika (Serena Brook) isn’t sure that she’ll fit in, but she needs the money. Afraid that they won’t accept her for being Jewish, she hides who she really is. Frieda the Cook (Cathleen Fuller) is a harsh boss, but Eric the Butler (Gary Briggle) is kinder to the new girl. Miss Pettingill (Jen Burleigh-Bentz) is the governess. She can be aloof, but Monica finds a way to connect with her.
Mr. Warner can seem overly harsh as the dad in this story, but our sympathies go out to him early on when he sings of loving and missing his deceased wife in Stereopticon. Angelina appears through the doorway, as a ghost, a memory. She reappears to the children in their songs and memories as well. This is their first Christmas without their dear mother, and it’s hard. The memories and traditions keep her alive for them. Their father is absent, so they reach out to the servants to create a Christmas that their mother would have liked. “We’ll each bring a tradition of our own,” they say. German immigrant Frieda brings in a Christmas tree. Eric sings a song with his friend, the famous actress Lillian (Norah Long). Monica pulls a menorah out of her suitcase, but is afraid to show it to the rest of the staff and the children.
This is such a lovely production. I understand why they’ve done it often at the History Theatre. It has endearing characters, gorgeous music, social and familial conflict, resolve and understanding. Many people go through what this family is experiencing, the first holidays without a loved one. We still have a long ways to go to understand and respect each other’s various backgrounds and shows like this help create empathy.
Ron Peluso takes his final bow as Artistic Director with the closing of this production. Thank you, Mr. Peluso, for all you’ve done to lift up the various voices and stories of Minnesotans. Music Direction by David Lohman. Choreographer is Tinia Moulder. Lovely scenic design by Rick Polenek. Lighting by Chris Johnson, and Sound Design by C Andrew Mayer. Period appropriate costumes by E. Amy Hill. Live music performed by David Lohman on the piano and Zelda Younger on clarinet.
You can see A Servants’ Christmas at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN through December 18, 2022. It’s a lovely show. Bring the whole family.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: What are your holiday traditions? Do you have any family heirlooms that you take out or use specifically during the holidays?