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Theater Review: “Looking for Christmas”

Aaron C. Finley as Mike Randolf, Kaylin Hedges as Ellie Randolf, and Liana Hunt as Jessie Randolf in Clint Black's Looking for Christmas, running November 11 – December 31, 2018 at The Old Globe.
Photo credit:
Ken Howard

It’s that time of year when theaters dust off their Christmas-themed shows for holiday theatergoers.

This year, The Old Globe offers something different, with a country/western twang: the world premiere of the stage version of superstar/songwriter Clint Black’s 1995 holiday album “Looking for Christmas.”

Black and James D. Sasser have expanded the songs into a two-act musical that plays through Dec. 31 in the Globe’s White Theatre.

The plot involves Mike Randolf (Aaron C. Finley), an American soldier in Afghanistan, who – along with best friend Doug Miller (DeLeon Dallas) and the rest of his unit – dreams of being home for the holidays and spending “Christmas With You” (his wife, Jessie, wonderfully played by Broadway veteran Liana Hunt, and their 9-year-old daughter Ellie).

Ellie (Kayin Hedges) has already ordered (okay, begged) dad to get home in time to watch her play one of the wise men in her school’s Christmas pageant.

Doug’s wife Alissa (Syndee Winters) also waits anxiously for her husband’s return. These are enormously likable characters, wonderfully portrayed by an excellent cast.

But war takes its toll on the psyche (not to mention the body), and as soon as someone in the unit says “This is our last patrol before going home,” it’s clear what will happen.

The rest of the show depicts Mike’s struggle with guilt and regret – however undeserved – and his more difficult problem with PTSD, along with its effect on the others in his life.

Kent Nicholson directs a fine cast (which includes four Broadway veterans) with a steady hand, and though the show can’t help but come across as a concert piece rather than a play with music, the characters are immensely likable.

Some of the songs are aimed at the younger set (“Milk and Cookies,” for one); others speak to the adult frame of mind (such as Alissa’s “Me and the Moon” and the obligatory anti-capitalist anthem “Hustle and Bustle”).

Finley is heartbreaking as Mike, who has returned a different person from the one who went to war. Hunt is a sympathetic presence as well, and the two have undeniable chemistry.

Dallas proves once again my contention that he will soon find himself in the ranks of Broadway veterans with a moving portrait of friendship

Winters shines – and pulls the heartstrings – on “Never Knew Love,” a new song written for the show, and is a riveting presence throughout.

Matt Hinkley and his seven-member band keep the place hoppin’. Sean Fanning has toned down his usual spiffy sets to match the simplicity of the surroundings. Lighting and sound are well handled by Rui Rita and Leon Rothenberg. And Charlotte Devaux’s costumes catch the holiday spirit.

“Looking for Christmas” isn’t up there with “A Christmas Carol” or that Grinch guy, but it’s a nice change of holiday fare.

The details

“Looking for Christmas” plays through December 31, 2018 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm. Some Dec. dates vary; check with the box office.