Hippodrome Holiday Treats Worth Savoring

The Hippodrome Theatre presents Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the 39th consecutive year and The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) for the first time, just for laughs.


From left, David Patrick Ford, Matthew Lindsay and Mark Chambers offer tidings of good cheer during The Ultimate Christmas Show Abridged)
From left, David Patrick Ford, Matthew Lindsay and Mark Chambers offer tidings of good cheer during The Ultimate Christmas (Abridged) at the Hippodrome Theatre. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

No one can accuse the Hippodrome Theatre of being part of the so-called “War on Christmas.” Not when both holiday shows opening this weekend have Christmas in their titles.

On Friday night at 8, the Hippodrome debuts The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged), a madcap comedy about three men scrambling to stage a Christmas variety show after the scheduled performers pull a no-show. On Saturday afternoon at 2 and 4, the Hipp continues a Gainesville holiday tradition with the opening performances of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) will have seven performances a week through Dec. 18. A Christmas Carol will have two performances each Saturday through Dec. 17 and then have six additional performances Dec. 19-22. (The company also performs the play 15 times for Alachua County schoolchildren on weekday mornings.)

According to Lauren Warhol Caldwell, the Hippodrome makes an effort to appeal to different tastes by presenting two distinct holiday productions.

“Our goal is to look for a companion piece to A Christmas Carol with a completely different tone,” she said. “The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) is much more geared toward the comedic side of things. I call it a very long SNL sketch that’s threaded together with the men’s imaginations.”

Mark Chambers as Mary with child. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
Mark Chambers as Mary with child. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

The premise is that the three men are hosting the annual Multicultural Interfaith Holiday Variety Show and Christmas Pageant at St. Everybody’s Non-Denominational Universalist Church. Lacking a cast because of a winter storm, the trio has to whip up a show themselves on the fly, using props from the acts that were supposed to perform.

“It’s like being in a race car,” Caldwell said. “It’s a show that keeps you on the edge of your seat.”

Audience members will no doubt moan and groan when they hear some of the one-liners in store for them during The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged). Each satirical skit takes aim at even the most sacred of Christmas beliefs. (Mother Mary in labor makes for a classic, um, pregnant pause!)

Delivering those irreverent lines and partaking in all the buffoonery are Hippodrome Acting Company members Mark Chambers, Matthew Lindsay and David Patrick Ford, whose Three Wise Men could be mistaken for The Three Stooges.

“The play is a mashup of all sorts of holiday stories and traditions interspersed with music and physical comedy and sight gags,” Chambers said. “We try to hit upon all the traditions, from English panto, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to the birth of Jesus.”

David Patrick Ford, left, and Matthew Lindsay are too cool for Christmas. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
David Patrick Ford, left, and Matthew Lindsay are too cool for Christmas. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Stephanie Lynge, the Hippodrome’s dramaturg, assistant to the artistic director and choreographer, is directing her first production at the theater. She said that The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) is intended purely for entertainment, not to mention some belly laughs.

“It’s a wild rollercoaster ride, that’s for sure!” she said. “The guys play 30-40 characters. I haven’t even counted them up. We like to look at it as the Hippodrome’s little gift to the community.”

A year ago, Lynge played alongside Ford in The Snow Queen, an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale written by UF theater professor Charlie Mitchell. Ford said that The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) has a different sensibility.

“Snow Queen wove together the fairy world with the modern world to tell the tale of real people with real problems and real feelings,” he said. “The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) is a collection of skits that come together like a Vaudeville comedy show. The plot is thin and non-dramatic; it’s just there as a structure on which to hang the funny.”

From left, Matthew Lindsay, David Patrick Ford and Mark Chambers get into the spirit of the season. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
From left, Matthew Lindsay, David Patrick Ford and Mark Chambers get into the spirit of the season. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Chambers just finished an exhausting Hippodrome run in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? He played the wheelchair-bound Blanche Hudson, channeling the role played by Joan Crawford in the 1962 movie. No longer confined to a wheelchair, Chambers gets to let loose in The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged).

David Patrick Ford and Matthew Lindsay struggle over a gift. Photo by Gainesville Downtown)
David Patrick Ford and Matthew Lindsay struggle over a gift. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

“It’s great fun to be in a sketch comedy-type show,” he said. “The elements of a little Vaudeville and broad comedy is a style that can grant leeway into another world, so to speak, and this one takes us into many quick little realities that are unreal, so that is enjoyable for sure.”

In one scene, Chambers gets to dress up as a woman again, this time as none other than Mother Mary as her water breaks. Strangely enough, the venerable Chambers has dressed as the Holy Mother before.

“I modeled as Mary back in about 1985, I think it was,” he said. “There were poses to represent the Annunciation and then with the Holy Family. I’m not sure if I was actually pregnant or just fat!”

Ford said that The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged) is a smart comedy with lots of bad puns but also heartwarming stories that audiences can relate to.

“The holidays are a time to feel connected to family and friends, and I like that this show may slightly offend everyone in the family and help them understand that we shouldn’t take ourselves so seriously,” he said. “The music, dance and silliness will melt even the Scroogiest of hearts.”

From left, Matthew Lindsay, David Patrick Ford and Mark Chambers are the Three Wise Men is disco attire. Photo by ?Gainesville downtown)
From left, Matthew Lindsay, David Patrick Ford and Mark Chambers are the Three Wise Men in disco attire. (Photo by Gainesville Downtown)

Ford said the chemistry between him and his fellow actors is critical to generate laughs.

“This show is absolutely a group effort,” he said. “Each of us has our own time to shine as individuals, but we must also come together to make the comedic scenes work.

“Both Mark and Matthew have wonderful ideas and energy. Matt and I worked on The Two Musketeers last spring and in Peter and the Starcatcher last fall. I have not worked with Mark before, but I saw him recently in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I would be happy to work with these two gentlemen again anytime.”

Will The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged), written by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, appeal to all ages?

“Audiences will absolutely enjoy this show if they like comedy, music and watching grown men behaving like children,” Ford said. “There is truly something for everyone: from outlandish caricatures of political figures to disco-costumed dance numbers to scantily clad men-of-a-certain-age.  There is also audience participation and candy being thrown into the crowd.  What’s not to enjoy?”

To participate in the festivities, members of the audience are encouraged to bring a wrapped gift of no more than $5 to the show. During the show, the gifts sit on the stage only to be exchanged before the second act begins.

Matthew Lindsay spreads some Christmas cheer in The Ultimate Christmas Show Abridged).
Matthew Lindsay spreads some Christmas cheer in The Ultimate Christmas Show (Abridged).

Meanwhile, Gregg Jones will once again bring Ebeneezer Scrooge to life in the Hippodrome’s 39th annual production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Niall McGinty. The cast also includes fellow Hippodrome Acting Company performers Sara Morsey, Logan Wolfe and others.

The play follows Scrooge’s journey through ghosts of Christmas past, present and future as he discovers the true meanings of love, charity and the magic of the holiday season.

“So many patrons say they don’t feel the Christmas season has started until they see A Christmas Carol,” Lauren Warhol Caldwell said. “It’s a beautiful message about the redemption of man. It’s about being part of the hope of the world, not the dark of the world.”

This weekend, children can use toys and cans of food as tickets to A Christmas Carol. The Hipp invites children under 18 years old to help local families in need by donating a non-perishable food item or a new, unwrapped toy to Toys for Tots before the performance. Those who donate will receive a free ticket to the first showing of A Christmas Carol on Saturday at 2 p.m. Two children can watch the show for free per paying adult.

— Noel Leroux


Reservations for both shows can be made by calling the Hippodrome box office at 352.375.4477 or by visiting the The Hippodrome website.

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