BREA — Christmas means different things to different folk, but in Brea, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.
That's the case at the Curtis Theatre on Thursday when "1940s Big Band Christmas" premieres. According to its producers, Ray Limon and Joshua Carr of Tustin, the two-hour musical revue offers an uncommon, nostalgia-laced take on holiday chestnuts including "White Christmas" and "Jingle Bells."
The show is set on Christmas Eve, 1940, in a radio station in Anytown, USA, said director-choreographer Limon, who has staged productions at San Diego's Avo Theatre with Carr, at the Yorba Linda Forum Theatre and other venues.
A studio band--played by a real orchestra for hire called Windmill, under the direction of Tom McClure--provides the doo-wops as four professional singers (Joshua Carr, Lisa Dyson, Danny Michaels and Ann Peck) give swingy renditions of Christmas tunes, many of them rooted in the World War II era. They do take a few historical liberties by including tunes of more recent vintage, but these get the swing treatment too, Carr said.
There's also time for "a word from our sponsors." Several, actually.
"We're re-creating actual radio commercials from the 1940s," explained Limon, adding that much of the show's genial humor comes from the radio spots, because the thinking behind them is so perplexing by today's standards.
"They're really very funny," Limon said. "People are going to think we made them up. For example, there's a spot for Phillip Morris brand cigarettes that talks about how they're so light . . . so relaxing, they're actually good for you."
The spots are enlivened by live sound effects ranging from spirited teeth brushing to the exaggerated crunching of breakfast cereal. Limon said they also briefly considered having a sound-effects guy "fake" a big tap number by pounding shoes on plywood. Instead, the four singers dance to a souped-up version of "Sleigh Ride."
Ironically, the show's bittersweet moments came from an utterly '90s source: the Internet. Actual correspondence between "our boys overseas" and their loved ones at home is read at several intervals. A friend had found the letters while cyber surfing, said Limon.
Carr, whose recent credits include the title role in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at Escondido's Lawrence Welk Dinner Theatre and musical direction of several Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera shows, said "Big Band Christmas" moves fast. Dialogue is used sparingly to bridge the tunes. Though he expects a few somber moments during the letters segment, the overall mood is merry and bright and comfortably familiar, no matter your age.
"A lot of these songs are straight out of the '40s, the Bing Crosby era," he said. "They're Christmas standards of that time, and they're Christmas standards of today. . . . And everybody likes a Christmas show."
* "1940s Big Band Christmas" will be performed Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Circle in Brea. $7-$15. (714) 990-7722. Performances continue Dec. 18, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 3 p.m. at the Yorba Linda Forum Theatre, 4175 Fairmont Blvd., Yorba Linda. $10-$15. (714) 779-1932.