by Carlyn Aquiline,
Literary Manager and Dramaturg

City Theatre has gotten into the TV production business. No, we’re not giving up the live theatre and moving to Hollywood; we’re taping a show right from our own Mainstage. A Kodachrome Christmas has transformed the theatre into the Raymond Hoople Studios and lets the audience in on the fun as you become the studio audience for the taping of the final episode–the holiday special–of the Early Bird Morning Show, starring Butler’s own Earlene Hoople. Like any good morning show host, Earlene has planned a variety of segments for the studio audience’s entertainment and enlightenment, including a cooking segment, a musical segment or two, and a crafts segment, to name a few, ending with the annual Kodachrome slide show.

Peggy Roeder as Earlene Hoople. Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons.

The vision of A Kodachrome Christmas may have been dancing, like some giant sugar plum, in Pat Hazell’s head prior to last year. After all, he does know a little a something about TV writing and production—albeit on a slightly higher scale. As a comic, Pat appeared many times over on The Tonight Show (first With Johnny Carson, then With Jay Leno), was called one of the Five Funniest People in America by Showtime, and opened for Jerry Seinfeld, who hired him as one of the first writers on the Seinfeld show. Pat’s first foray into playwriting, Bunk Bed Brothers, was picked up by NBC and filmed as the sit-com American Pie (no relation to the films), which Pat wrote and starred in. When he had coffee here with artistic director Tracy Brigden during City Theatre’s summer 2008 presentation of his show The Wonder Bread Years, the vision became an actual commission. City Theatre wanted a new comic, popular Christmas show; and writing a holiday show, to Pat, meant that he’d get to spend much of the holiday season at home with his wife and kids each year. City Theatre undertook a collaboration with Sweetwater Productions, Pat’s production company, to bring A Kodachrome Christmas to the stage this holiday season. And Pat suggested Peggy Roeder—the actress who had played his mother on American Pie—to play Earlene.

Anyone who saw The Wonder Bread Years understands Pat’s approach to comedy and to connecting with the audience. (Click here to see a clip of John Mueller in The Wonder Bread Years.) His signature is an ability to draw out of the audience a simultaneous laughter at and celebration of aspects of American culture. The Wonder Bread Years was a trip down memory lane, a stand-up comedy look at slices of Americana: the customs, toys, TV shows, &tc., of the 60s and 70s. A Kodachrome Christmas has more of a narrative and focuses more specifically on holiday customs, of course, from carols to decorations to baking. Along the way it throws in some hilarious commercial parodies. But the aim in the end is the same: Pat’s is a feel-good humor. He wants the audience to have fun and to walk away laughing. It’s part of his signature. But so is nostalgia—and I guess what better time for that than this time of year when our thoughts often turn to family and we long to be home for the holidays.

Look at Christopher Rawson’s Post-Gazette review of A Kodachrome Christmas here.

And Alice Carter’s Trib review here.

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