Civic Theatre's annual show captures joy of Christmas
'Candy Canes' boasts cheerful songs and stories

By JULIE McHALE - TimeOut Theater Critic

December 12, 2013

WAUKESHA - It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. That came to mind when I thought about the degree of involvement and dedication required to put together a Christmas show of such magnitude as the Waukesha Civic Theatre’s yearly offering of “Candy Canes and Holiday Carols.”  

John Cramer, who conceived the show for its first showing in 2009, and Jes and Jacob Sudbrink, who continue to tweak it, are largely responsible for its success. Other members of the community, including many children, make their significant contributions to this seasonal confection.  

The show includes many varied stories, songs and dances; it is a good mix of secular and sacred, old and new, serious and humorous. If you don’t like one vignette, the next one is sure to please. There are 26 separate scenes, all united with a colorful scenic design (A.J. Simon) and clever costuming (Nikki Maritch). Scott Fudali and Keith Handy also add their special lighting and sound effects.  

Some of the outstanding scenes in Act I include some nostalgic numbers from the film “White Christmas,”  the antics of the Snow  Miser, featuring Jeff Stark, and  a tender duet with  Lindsey Retzlaff and Karl Magsig, singing “Winter Wonderland.”  

A trio of young ones perform “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” belted out with conviction by Stephanie Christiansen; “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” earnestly delivered by Sydney Johnson; and “Bring Him Home Santa,” poignantly sung by Sarah Albers.  

“Carol of the Bells” is beautifully rendered by the whole ensemble, and “The Restroom Door Said Gentlemen,” a clever parody, is strongly performed by some hearty male singers. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” also amused us, thanks to Lee Conrad’s broad humor.   

Act II opens with an ensemble number, “The Christmas Can-Can,” vigorously performed by the entire ensemble. Then we’re introduced to a family, tucked into a cozy corner downstage, where a father, mother and daughter interact and play a part in many of the scenes that follow.  Paul Burkard, Teri Downing and Lily Baranowski execute their parts well. Lily Baranowski shines in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  Burkard always adds a comic flair.  

Jeff Barta is well cast as the Heat Miser, and Marty Graffenius’ beautiful tenor voice is a standout in his confrontation with Mr. Grinch.  

The ethnic musical collage is engaging as the ensemble sings carols in other languages and dresses accordingly. Sudbrink arranged the medley. In fact, we can thank Sudbrink for most of the musical direction and arrangements. He is a very talented young man.  

The two closing numbers, “Silent Night,” very movingly arranged by Sudbrink again, and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” delivered with feeling by Eddie Pronley, both move us.   

This year’s show is dedicated to those who have served our country in the military. This World War II song brought back memories for those of us who have vivid recollections of that era. Unfortunately, there are still many engaged in military service who are probably longing to be home for Christmas. It was a thoughtful idea to bring that reality to mind.  

All in all, this is a good family show that will entertain all ages.  

“Candy Canes” runs through Dec. 22 with three shows each weekend at the Waukesha Civic Theatre, 264 W. Main St. For show times and tickets, call 547-0708 or visit