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Life and Arts

On the Town: Zany nativity musical keeps the faith — with a few add-ons

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With Pastor Paul Clairville and his wife, Carol, playing Jack and Wendy Torrance, and Lydia Lyman Grote and Patrick Stephenson in the roles of Mary and Joseph, pop culture and theology harmoniously clash during “Nativity: The Musical!”
(David Laurell)

The celebration of Christmas is steeped in traditions, and this year, as the Westminster Presbyterian Church presented “Nativity: The Musical!” for the 15th year, it’s fair to say that this classic production has truly become an annual yuletide tradition in Burbank.

While Christian churches in every corner of the globe present some sort of Christmas program or pageant, Westminster Presbyterian’s offering of the age-old story can be described with many different adjectives, the best being “unique.”

Written and directed by entertainment industry veterans Greg and Melissa Baldwin, “Nativity: The Musical!” does include the basics of the traditional Christmas story along with its principal characters.

However, it also includes a cornucopia of odd characters, non sequiturs, double entendres, puns, pop culture and current-event references, parodies of show tunes and pop hits, and Borscht Belt one-liners.

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Told as a 1970s network television holiday special hosted by Bing Crosby, played by David Brandt, this year’s show included the archangel Gabriel singing “Hello, Mary” to the tune of “Hello, Dolly,” and parodies of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “The Time Warp” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” sung by the Von Trapp family, the Star of Bethlehem, presented as a glamorous Hollywood starlet, Wayne Campbell and David S. Pumpkins of “SNL” fame, Inspector Clouseau, Noella the Christmas Cat from “Cats,” Cleopatra, the Roman Emperor Caligula, a Magi trio of bike-riding Mormon missionaries and television chef Julia Child.

The 2019 version of the show also included the church’s pastor and his wife, Paul and Carol Clairville, playing the parts of ax-touting Jack Torrance and his wife, Wendy, of “The Shining,” who, as the managers of Bethlehem’s fully booked Overlook Inn, invite Mary and Joseph, played by Lydia Lyman Grote and Patrick Stephenson, to stay in their stable.

“How can you ask a pregnant girl to stay in a cold stable with the animals?” Wendy asks her husband.

“Oh, please,” Jack replies with a wave. “It’s not like anyone will ever know.”

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If none of this makes sense, that is the beauty of “Nativity: The Musial!,” which simply strives to make audiences roll their eyes and laugh while being touched by the true Christmas story that is interwoven within the bizarre madness.

“We take our faith very seriously,” said Pastor Clairville of the annual program. “But, we don’t take ourselves seriously. Yes, the show is filled with a lot of fun, but it is based upon solid theological tenants and presented in a way that we hope will bring a message of faith, hope and love to people who otherwise may not be inclined to attend a church’s Christmas pageant.”

Explaining that his congregants, who make up the 100-plus-person cast of the show, include people of all faiths, and even those who don’t embrace any specific denomination, Clairville said he thinks that is what a church should be.

“We try to be a model when it comes to accepting everyone and showing love and care to all who come through our doors,” Clairville said. “To us, that is what all churches should do — why they should even exist.”

Along with the Baldwins, this year’s production also included the writing talents of Jessica Norwood, Shane Arenal, Sydney Baldwin and Matt Bond.

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