Clague Playhouse’s ‘The Christmas Express’ is a simple message of hope and kindness


It’s that holly jolly time of the year when all of the theaters dust off their Christmas specials even though children who saw the original premiere are now taking their children and in some cases grand children to see the same show by the same company.

That is why it was with some delight when Clague Playhouse announced their production of Pat Cook’s The Christmas Express over the holiday season.

Yes, it is a local community theater so don’t expect Equity Actors level performances. It is a bit of a hokey story line reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. There is carol singing and lots and lots of schmaltz but besides having this working for/against it the production truly is a bit of fresh air during this stuffy and at times overwhelming Christmas season.

It is the eve of Christmas Eve at the Holly Railway Station and the stationmaster as well as full time curmudgeon, Hilda Towbridge (Cat Kenney) has dreams of anything but living in Holly for the rest of her life. She collects travel brochures for far off lands, especially Australia. She and the last remaining station porter, Satch Brunswick (Peter Toomey) spend t heir time talking about how gloomy this dying town has become.

Soon, the mail carrier, Maggie Clooney (Margy Haas) stops by with the latest pile of junk mail and is joined by the town’s newspaper reporter, Penelope Blaisedale (Donna Case) and City Council Representative, Myrna Hobsnagle (Margaret Hnat) who is there to whip everyone into shape as a group of town Christmas carolers.

Enter Leo Tannenbaum alighting from the unseen “Christmas Express” which is a mythical train that many say does not exist. Suddenly, a series of miracles begin to happen in the tiny drab station...an ancient broken radio begins to play, broken Christmas decorations are found to be whole, a Christmas tree is brought in and the rag tag off key group of carolers begins to sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Joining the party is Mr. Fairfax (Mark Hilan) whom Hilda suspects has been sent by the railroad to close the station, distraught newlywed Donna Faye Cummings (Caitlin Hathaway-Morgan) joined later by her husband, Jerry Cummings (George Morgan) and lastly, Deborah Smith (Samantha Gates) on the lookout for her missing eccentric father.

First mention must be made of the splendid job done by Ron Newell on the set design. It is rich in antique-ish props with scores of working doors (including a main entrance that opens by itself). It is a nostalgic look of a time gone by. The cast does an equally worthy job of handling their complex roles. Special props to the cast as they achieved nearly perfect six part harmony during their “Twelve Days of Christmas” rendition. As a group of actors they blend well to make a believable presentation.

The gentle message of this quaint play is “Hope” not only during the Christmas holidays but throughout the year and during our entire lives. Some will say that the show is hokey and old fashioned but for those with even a tiny speck of Christmas spirit will enjoy the idea that everything can be made better with a little touch of kindness. That is the definition of a Christmas miracle.

The Christmas Express runs through December 8, 2019 at Clague Playhouse, 1371 Clague Road, Westlake, Ohio. For tickets and information visit www.clagueplayhouse.org or call (440) 331-0403.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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