By Sheri Berger
Lofte Community Theatre, December 4, 2021, 7 PM.
On the outskirts of the city, in the middle of rural Nebraska farmland, is a barn where magic happens. Christmas is an especially magical time of year at the Lofte Community Theatre. Artistic Director, Kevin Colbert, and local radio personality and talented songwriter Mick Kovar teamed together to write Christmas at Leon’s back in 2012, after inspiration struck at a Saturday Husker Football watch party. Though Husker football and beer sometimes inspire bad ideas, that was certainly not the case with this idea. Christmas at Leon’s was a brilliant concept for a play, and one that will warm your heart for the Christmas season.
The play has been performed only four times since 2012, and some of the cast has returned to their roles over the years. Such was the case for Larry Bauers, who played Leon, the cantankerous Diner and Inn Owner who has been trying to prove that he can rectify his unempathetic and unkind ways for thousands of years. Bauers plays the perfect curmudgeon, griping at every opportunity, completely tone-deaf and unable to think about or care about other people and their situation or emotions.
This particular Christmas Eve there is a blizzard in rural Nebraska, and a bus driver named Eddie, energetically played by Aaron Spracklin, loses control of the bus and the passengers are stranded, with only the diner, complete with a small stage, in which to seek refuge for the night. Eddie is a loner, with few friends and a love of Elvis’ music and Yoda, and he is searching for friends and meaning in life.
The play is accented with pop culture references ranging from the last few decades to the present, which I won’t spoil for you, but they provide light-hearted breaks from the subject, which is heavy and real. The three Angels in the play are in Archangel Harold’s charge, much like Bosley was to Charlie’s Angels, and they return to Leon’s Diner each Christmas Eve to help humans with their problems. The angels use music from a jukebox as a tool to help the characters evolve. Harold is played by Kevin Colbert, who always performs with charm, ease, and confidence, and is always a pleasure to watch. His angels are played by Betty Colbert (Joy), Ross Mumford (Barry) and Piper Monson (Belle). The trio proves to be the comic relief with their own dysfunctions, giving a helping hand to each of the humans in need of some guidance.
The other eight cast members are passengers on the bus, mostly couples with their own unique situations and problems in their relationships. There is a scene in which two of the couples, played by Scott Pope/Sara Mattix, and Randy Wallace/Anne Riha, are having an argument. The scene is cleverly orchestrated in such a way that the couples are saying and singing the same thing to each other, yet the actual disagreement is about something different for each of the couples. Their problems are easily relatable: one of the partners is not able to set boundaries, and the other is unable to find their way in their career. This is something to appreciate about this script – its wide breadth of problems for the majority of the characters allows for very inclusiveness casting and interpretation. Any theatre could take this script and easily cast from their audition pool because the problems the characters face are extremely relatable.
Veteran actors Janet Sorenson and Jon R. Kruse play the elder and wiser couple, who become the soul of the group. Henry and Margaret Thompson have been together for decades and face the challenge of medical problems in their sunset years. Janet’s singing voice is rich and beautiful. Jon is a talented veteran actor, and I will never forget his touching death scene in Calendar Girls (2019) which left me welling up with tears. His character in this play is dealing with several medical issues which are not only serious, but sometimes humorous, and he bonds beautifully as a grandfather figure to Eric Hays, the young adult son of Julie and Nick, played by Peyton Banks. I have seen and enjoyed Peyton’s acting in other productions, but this production finally gave him his rightful chance to shine with a solo all his own. His voice is incredible, and his acting as a young angry adult who rebels against his parents, for understandable reasons, is believable and intense.
Mackenzie Davis, played by Kody Horrocks, is also another stranded traveler. Mackenzie is a college student traveling back home to Chicago who is trying to figure out her career and please her parents at the same time. Kody’s solo is captivating, and then she is joined in perfect harmony by the angel, Belle, played by Piper Monson. These two actors together sing a beautiful duet “I Close My Eyes” that will make your skin tingle. Belle is very often the comic relief and ditzy Angel of Harold’s angels, and relates the best to the younger passengers. Monson has wonderful comedic timing and seems very comfortable in this role.
The other two angels, Barry and Joy, played by Ross Mumford and Betty Colbert, are the fun guides of the play. These two angels are Veteran Angels, and Belle is new to their team. All three actors complement their roles with energy, and fabulous singing that blends together perfectly.
Christmas at Leon’s is a touching reminder to honor the golden rule, and to choose your words in such a way that you build other people up instead of tearing them down. It’s a lesson that humanity needs: to understand that we are all connected to each other, and the things we say do affect others. But the play is not just a reminder of this important revelation, it’s also full of humor and different styles of music to encapsulate our diversity as well as the spirit of Christmas. It’s a fun play – never have I heard a rap song that so cleverly rhymes the word “moron” so hilariously. I particularly enjoyed the music of this play, and the use of harmonization and beautiful voices to tell the story. This play does not disappoint. Kevin Colbert and Mick Kovak should be really proud of the lovely production they have built together. I would love to see it again because it is packed with so many fun Easter Eggs I may have missed the first time around. And who knows when the Lofte will offer this fabulous play again, so bring the family and head on out to the magic of theatre and Christmas at the Lofte in Manley, Nebraska.
Benjamin Petitford is the Musical Director for this play. Piper Monson performed a dual duty as Belle and the choreographer for the production. Stage Manager was Ken Patry, Properties by Sheila Hansen who also had a short cameo at the end of the play as Marie Carpenter. Christopher Jackson, newcomer to the stage, played her husband, Jonathan Carpenter.
Costumes by Janet Sorensen, Lighting Design by Tim Sorensen, Sound Design by Mick Kovar, and Sound Board by Nick Haussler. Jon R. Kruse served as Scenic Artist. Set design by Kevin Colbert.
If you go: there are eight shows left: Dec 5, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19th. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7PM, Sundays at 2PM. The Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road, Manley, NE. Tickets are $22, except for their Thursday show where tickets at the door will be $12. Dinner will also be served for $9 before the show, consisting of a Hot Turkey Sandwich, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and Green Beans.
Sheri Berger is a business minion, dog momma, arts groupie, and co-host of the Platte River Bard Podcast with her husband, Chris Berger