The cold weather finally caught up to Orange County, making people’s coffee drinking and cozying habits more appropriate in this rainy weather. Debuting on November 30th at the Lyceum Theatre was another Vanguard original, “Once Upon A Christmas Time,” written once again by Professor Vanda Eggington.
The audience entered a bustling Christmas environment which featured several cast members singing joyous Christmas carols as the patrons found their seats, setting the light-hearted, cheery mood of the evening.
Eggington’s clever writing featured pop culture references from “Friends” to “Frozen,” and everything in between, keeping it relevant and fun, in a medieval setting.
Complementing the many witty jokes, were beautiful acapella renditions of classic Christmas songs along with 5 brand new songs written by Eggington.
The playwright always manages to squeeze in some form of the gospel message into her Christmas shows, giving them that deeper theological meaning, and “Once Upon a Christmas Time” was no exception. Eggington tied the royal couple’s’ ability to choose to marry to God giving us free will to choose him.
Providing as the backdrop was a gorgeously painted oversized storybook featuring a detailed castle and the title “Once Upon a Christmas Time.” The ornate set immediately transported the audience into this fanciful world. Surrounding the storybook on either side were several lighted Christmas trees, and outlining the proscenium was a garland wrapped in lights and dots of holly.
Similar to the Lyceum’s production of “All Shook Up” earlier this season, which featured an Elvis version of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” “Once Upon a Christmas Time” is a medieval Christmas version of a standard Disney princess movie, complete with far-off places, daring sword fights, and a prince and princess in disguise, with an added-bonus gospel message,
The story begins with two minstrels acting as narrators, Thraine and Katriel, played by Cameron Burchard and Emily Coffey respectively. With their beautiful acapella voices, the minstrels provided the history of the legend of the arranged marriage of Prince Kendrick (played by freshman DJ Fields) and Princess Aubrianna (played by junior Melissa Richardson). Two warring kingdoms sought peace by arranging a marriage proposal between their two infant children 20 years prior. Part of the treaty required that neither royal were allowed to see each other before the day of their wedding. The story of “Once Upon A Christmas Time” enters 20 years later, on Christmas Eve, the day before their anticipated wedding.
The lights come up on Princess Aubrianna in her tower with her two ladies in waiting, Birgitta and Elsebethe. Played by freshman Alli Gainer, Birgitta–the spunky, hopeless romantic–attempts to cheer up Princess Aubrianna by relaying hypothetical scenarios of her unknown prince. With references to various well-known fairy tales, Birgetta prances around the stage with childlike excitement, despite the nagging of her elder, Elsebethe. Elsebethe, senior Heather Greenfield, is a stickler for rules and traditions. Birgitta’s overdramatic energy matched with Elsebethe’s uptight attitude is cause for many hilarious quarrels that were a highlight of the show, leaving the audience in stitches.
The plot thickens as the princess and her ladies devise a plan (not unlike that of Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin”) to enter the city in a disguise and find out any information they can about the mysterious prince. Before they leave, Princess Aubrianna wishes that Birgetta, giddy with adventure, finds a man who defends her honor and that Elsebethe, strongly opposing this obvious rule-breaking, finds a way to enjoy herself.
The ladies find themselves in a local pub owned by the Kungl family. Hilder Kungl, played by senior Marissa Del Gatto, is a forgetful but adoring widow hosting a celebratory toast in honor of the royal wedding. Enjoying the music and merriment are Hilder’s spunky daughters, Prudella and Paisley, portrayed by Allison Bassett and Cameron Del Rosario. Their relatable sisterly feuds are funny additions to the main plot of the girls in disguise.
The Kungl family’s quirkiness was just one of many comedic reliefs. Hilder, Pruella, and Paisley, joined by family friend Oskar, played by junior Robert Ball, had great comedic chemistry. Their onstage antics were enough to keep the audience engaged and smiling. Prudella’s signature was ending each of her sentences in “fact,” prompting giggles every time. Fact.
Also in the pub are Prince Kendrick and his two knights Gerund and Jaako, disguising themselves for the same reason as the women, to enjoy their last night before marriage and learn about this mysterious princess. Senior Andreas Schmidt plays Gerund, yet another roustabout, who is enchanted by Elsebethe and attempts to charm her with his good looks. With a sword as sharp as his wit, Gerund battles back and forth with Elsebethe, creating undeniable sexual tension, which works well against her uptight manner.
Birgetta and Jaako, sophomore Tiffer Aguirre, are immediately infatuated with each other, similar to that of Anna and Hans from Disney’s Frozen, except that Jaako is actually a (plot twist) good guy.
Aubrianna and Kendrick find themselves alone, both under attempt of masking their true identity and have a surprisingly quick connection. Fields bring a genuineness to Prince Kendrick that makes the audience fall in love with him. Aubrianna is torn as she begins to feel understood and heard by this stranger but feels as if she’s betraying her betrothed.
Similar to the story of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” the next morning is the highly anticipated wedding day, and as the prince and princess approach the altar, they discover that the stranger they thought they met the night before is, in fact, their spouse-to-be.
When Princess Aubrianna storms out in a huff, feeling taken advantage of and deceived, Prince Kendrick and the rest of the ensemble chase after her and, of course, get lost. Somehow, the cast uses the size of the Lyceum Theatre to its full potential, running up and down the aisles in pursuit of their respective loved one.
After a long-lost letter is discovered that reveals the climactic truth that the prince and princess are actually given a choice to marry, Prince Kendrick and Princess Aubrianna come to their senses, they carry on with the wedding, where everyone lives happily ever after.
While the show ended on a serious spiritual note, it did not take away from the fun night of laughter and enchantment. Though the show contained archetypal fairytale content, it was still a warm evening of love and laughter. And hey, nothing against a good Disney ending.