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If you go
What: “A Christmas Survival Guide”
Where: Arena Dinner Theatre, 719 Rockhill St.
When: 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain today, Saturday, Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15; 2 p.m. matinee Dec. 9
Admission: Tickets, at $35, are available by calling 424-5622
Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Tarah Cantrell, left, Jon Hartman and Aimee Lackey are part of the five-person cast of Arena Dinner Theatre’s “A Christmas Survival Guide.”

Musical for family holiday

Carol Howell-Wasson, left, and Gary Bugge, front left, fill out the cast with Lackey, Cantrell and Hartman. The show, which opens today at Arena, includes 20 holiday-themed songs.

In the play “A Christmas Survival Guide,” the title refers to a fictitious book that inspires the characters to make the most of the holidays.

As produced by Arena Dinner Theatre, the play may work equally well as entertainment and antidote.

“It’s really one of those revues that is meant to help people deal with the stresses of Christmas and laugh at the typical things that causes stress at Christmas,” director and co-star Carol Howell-Wasson says. “The play helps us find the true meaning of Christmas; … giving to one another and loving one another.”

“A Christmas Survival Guide” opens today at Arena.

Howell-Wasson says the show is packed with 20 holiday-themed songs from numerous genres, “pop, jazz, blues, Broadway, sacred music … you name it.”

It is evocative of cabaret-style shows, she says, but is nowhere near as racy as some examples of that genre.

Howell-Wasson describes it as family friendly but adds that it’s probably not for young children.

“It tells the truth about Christmas for so many people,” she says. “It hits on all those things people tend to ponder and struggle with at this time of year: loneliness, growing older, finding a date for New Year’s Eve, the over-commercialization of Christmas, problems with family. We touch on all that, but in a funny way, a heartfelt way. It’s easily relatable.”

The region’s residents certainly never want for holiday-themed entertainment options, but Howell-Wasson believes “A Christmas Survival Guide” is unique.

“We’re the only musical out there that is being performed,” she says. “Beyond that, what’s so appealing about it is the way it puts a different twist into each one of these things that some people may think they knew pretty well.”

“A Christmas Survival Guide” puts enormous demands on its five-person cast, Howell-Wasson says, but it delivers an enormous return on that investment.

“I guarantee you that we’ll be up there having as much, if not more, fun than people watching it,” she says. “We have become a tight ensemble. There’s not a lead actor or a supporting actor. We really are a team. We perform as one.

“You always know that somebody has got your back,” Howell-Wasson says. “If you get lost, they’re quick to pick it up.”