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Jennings Sunday: Young performers deliver musical message

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NORTH VERNON — While the moral of the upcoming holiday musical by the Jennings County Players might be easily recognizable to adults, that doesn’t diminish the significance of the message that “Santa’s Christmas Tree” provides to children.

From the “Ugly Duckling” to “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer,” fantasy stories have been created over the centuries to assure self-critical kids of their distinctive value.

But “Santa’s Christmas Tree,” which features more than 30 young performers, delivers the familiar goods in a unique way.

In Beverly Weiler’s Christmas musical being performed at the Park Theatre Civic Center Friday through Sunday, the sympathetic main character is Miss Merry (Riley Eder), a kindhearted but scraggly little pine on Snowy Mountain, who finds herself surrounded by what most perceive as superior Christmas trees.

When the elves arrive to choose “the most beautiful one of all” for their boss, they seriously consider only three candidates: Mr. Douglas (John Kelley), Lady Spruce (Ali Robinette) and Sir Noble (Brantley White). While the three possess attractive external qualities, each also displays unpleasant character flaws.

But after the wicked Blizzard Wizard (Kaleb Downs) threatens all the forest animals, only one tree has the necessary inner qualities to defeat the evil villain, save the cuddly inhabitants of Snowy Mountain and earn the coveted honor of becoming “Santa’s Christmas Tree.”

If you know “Rudolph” or “The Ugly Duckling,” you know the ending. But the true fun in these stories is always in the twists and turns that lead the affable fantasy characters to a predictable but no less happy ending.

For many either directly or indirectly involved in this Christmas musical, the show is familiar on an entirely different level.

Elizabeth Eder, who is co-directing the production with Connie Rayburn, also directed the 1992 production of “Santa’s Christmas Tree.”

Eder said she’s received word from many who played elves, forest animals or trees as children in that first Jennings County production who plan to attend one of this weekend’s performances.

Perhaps no one will be more proud to see this latest incarnation than Alicia Heath Robinette, who played Lady Spruce as a child 20 years ago. Her daughter, Ali, was cast by Eder and Rayburn to play the same role in the 2012 production.

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