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By June S. April



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By June S. April

REDDING RIDGE — For some two decades the Spinning Wheel Inn has brought a nostalgic holiday presentation into its charming country setting. For many it has become a tradition to attend these Christmas theatre banquets.

With about 80 shows going on until December 29, sometimes three a day, the show’s writer and director, Karen Randazzo, has opted to have three different casts. So this review reflects only the one experienced.

The good news first. Six actors assume several roles each during the show. The story line follows the relationship of a couple, their friends and family for over half a century. It begins with a token gift given to the departing soldier’s sweetheart and ends with a resolution of that relationship.

What was funny is how members of the audience responded to the gift. As one woman near the stage called out, “She never wanted it in the first place.”

Each decade is represented by the popular songs of that era and whatever fashion statement dominated that period. The costumes left something to be desired, but they clearly were of that time. The sets were adequate and were used most effectively with the limited space at hand. Stage visibility is not a problem from any seat in the room.

Pianist and actor David Berliner does a fine job at the upright piano and had a good sense of modulating the dynamics.

Playing Jimmy Nolan, the soldier who left his love behind, Peter Randazzo not only has a wonderful voice, but is also a veteran of the stage. He and his wife Karen met when they were both students at the University of Bridgeport. Karen has written and produced shows at the Spinning Wheel Inn for the past 14 years.

In their (minimal?) spare time, the dynamic duo also has another show biz activity, called Partners in Crime. As the name implies, it has to do with original murder mysteries Mrs Randazzo writes and produces.

Priscilla Squires portrays the sweet love-interest, Alice Dumphy Shepard. Both she and Andrea Kennedy (who plays five different characters) have fine, strong voices and seem to be relishing their roles.

Lou Ursone is particularly good playing the 60s Robbie, and clearly has a flair for characterizations. In his three other roles he assumed a different persona, in every aspect.

Offering comic relief via some of his old characters, Paul Hatrick warmed to his acting as the evening went on. He was especially good portraying the homeless man, Withers.

The Gift makes no pretenses of being a Broadway level show; it’s meant to be an evening of light holiday entertainment. What was lacking, which Mr Randazzo was going to rectify, was music continuing the mood between the four acts.

The meal, which includes soup, salad, entree and dessert, is served by course between each act.

There is a harried sense to the evening, which might be worse when there are three shows rather than one. The more gracious, relaxed ambiance of earlier events at the Spinning Wheel Inn was definitely absent last Saturday evening.

Overall the fare was good, not outstanding. Rolls were cold, and my vegetable soup (which was tasty) did have some unidentifiable hard objects that I put on the side dish. My poached salmon, though quite nice, was cool; others at our table found theirs warmer.

There was an interesting Himalayan red rice dish on the side, along with the perfectly cooked string beans. The dessert, a berry pie, was outstanding.

It felt as if there was a shortage of waiters on hand, but I was told that was not the case. More individual attention would have been appreciated, along with a more relaxed pace.

There is a range of food that can be selected from, including fare for vegetarians.

(Ten shows are already sold out. Tickets [which are about $10 less for the matinees] range from $51.50 to $66.50 per person. The latter is the cost for the evening shows. The cost includes the meal, show, taxes and gratuity.

Admission is only by advanced ticket purchase. For reservations, call 203/938-2511. There are no refunds or transfers. There is also a 24-hour information line at 203/825-3006.)

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