The Ensemble Theatre celebrates the holiday season with a world premiere of the musical More Than Christmas. Written by Celeste Bedford Walker with original music by Stephanie Blue, the story focuses on the Mercy family.
Four generations of the family have gathered together, and some of them have more to say than just “Merry Christmas!” Several of them want Granny to move out of her house, which is in bad shape and much too large for her alone. But Granny doesn’t see it that way. It’s been her home for more than 40 years, and she has no intention of leaving it.
Broadway veteran Vivian Reed appears as the matriarch Granny. Musical theater-lovers will recognize Reed, who won a Drama Desk and Theatre World Award, along with a Tony Award nomination, for her performance in Bubbling Brown Sugar.
The cast also includes Regina Hearne, a powerhouse singer previously seen in Josephine Tonight and Da Kink in My Hair. Samuel Harvey and Kendall Burns, both alums of the Ensemble Theatre’s Young Performers training program, are among the child actors in the cast.
Composer Blue wrote more than 20 new songs for the show and created new arrangements of two Christmas standards. She started writing last January and worked closely with playwright Walker, who contributed additional lyrics.
“Celeste had great ideas,” Blue tells us. “She was good at giving me something to go on. She’d tell me what the character wanted to say, what the mood was. The styles vary; there’s some jazz, some gospel, some contemporary.”
While the storyline has some conflict, More Than Christmas is essentially a feel-good show. “Yes, there’s some tension,” says Eileen Morris, the Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director who also directs here. “Every family has that. But in the end, this is about a family that loves each other.”
More Than Christmas was commissioned with funding by BOLD Theatre Leadership Grant and the Texas Commission on the Arts. The BOLD grant is part of an initiative dedicated towards developing female artistic leaders, an everyday goal for the Ensemble.
“Having an all female [production team] isn’t that unusual for us,” Morris tells us. “We always work with women artists, work to have their voices heard and their work seen. For More Than Christmas, we have a female costume [designer], prop [master], dramaturge, director, composer and lyricist, book writer and lyricist.”
While More Than Christmas was commissioned for the Ensemble Theatre, Morris says she hopes it goes on to build an audience beyond Houston. “The plan and the prayer is that other cities across the country will include it in their Christmas repertoire.”
Nov. 14–Dec. 29. Tickets from $34. The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main St. 713-520-0055. More info and tickets at ensemblehouston.com.