ADA — Some families pop in their favorite movie to get in the Christmas spirit, be it “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “Elf,” but for Lima-area families, it’s going to see the Ohio Northern University Holiday Spectacular year after year.
The Holiday Spectacular is now in its 25th year and continues to be a holiday staple.
Director Kirsten Osbun-Manley said it’s the show’s mix of festive costumes, high-energy choreography and familiar Christmas tunes that keep people coming back year after year. Osbun-Manley has been the director since 2007 but has been involved in some capacity since the show’s inception.
“It brings so much joy and happiness to people, even if it’s just a 90-minute show, in the midst of this world where we have so much negativity and sadness,” Osbun-Manley explained. “This is a magical Christmas show that takes them to a place of happiness, generosity and giving, so I think that’s why people want to see it year after year.”
The show began as a 30-minute instrumental concert of traditional Christmas songs but along the way has incorporated an original storyline, singing, dancing, acrobatics and complex sets.
In the show, elf Trixel steals the magic compass from Santa Claus’ sleigh and fellow elf Tinsel joins Mrs. Claus in the search for Trixel and the compass. The journey leads them through the North Pole, Toyland, Santa’s Workshop and even makes a stop right in Lima. However, each year, a new twist is added to the show.
“There’s several things that have remained the same since the beginning and that’s the nativity scene, the march of the wooden soldiers and the visits from Santa and Frosty,” Osbun-Manley said. “The show is pretty much the same structure, but what happens is we take numbers out and put a new number in, there may be a new song or costume or set piece.”
Osbun-Manley would not reveal this year’s twist but guaranteed it would be a big one for those who have seen the show.
ONU alumnus Shawn Stevens returns to play Santa for the sixth year. As a Lima native, Stevens said he had seen the show nearly every year prior to getting involved. He started in the university’s music department in 1993 after graduating high school, but did not finish and had a career in a different field for 23 years. He decided to go back to study what he loved and wanted to get involved in the Holiday Spectacular.
“It’s phenomenal to be able to see the show really take shape over the years,” Stevens said. “Sitting there, eight years ago, I was thinking, ‘Wow, that would be a lot of fun to be a part of and maybe I’ll get the chance to when I go back to get my degree.”
Aside from the directing team, Stevens is the only graduate in the show. All of the nearly 40 performers are current university students, and they are joined by 25 area children on the stage.
“We have children in the cast who have grown up doing the show that I have watched grow up, do this show, and then they have come back this year as an addition to the 25th anniversary special,” Stevens explained of the show’s legacy. He said the growth of the university’s theater department has only added to the show.
“If anything, I have seen the level of professionalism from the actors, singers and dancers has risen to the top over the last several years,” he said. “The theater and music program here is really soaring and so they’re attracting quality talented students, and that has really brought the level of the show up.”
Elena Matchen, now a senior musical theater major, was drawn to the program all the way from Atlanta. Though she did not grow up with the show, she has become more than familiar with it, being involved all four years in her time as a student. She started as a young performer supervisor her freshman year and has worked her way up to the soloist Rockette.
“It’s been very exciting to have the opportunity to get to know the show and get an understanding of what it’s about. I was grateful to be involved in the show and get an assistant stage manager credit (as a freshman),” Matchen said. “At the same time, I was thinking I’d love to be in the show, so it’s been exciting having this new involvement and being one of the people on stage representing this tradition that’s so important for so many families in this area.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.