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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

‘Holiday Spectacular’ and ‘Holiday on Robinhood Lane’ bring a double dose of cheer

Performers sing and dance on stage in holiday garb in front of a snowy town backdrop. In front of the stage, stage crew work at their consoles.
Lauren Warnecke
Cast and crew make final preparations Thursday for "Holiday Spectacular" at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. The show kicks off its 21st edition Saturday with two performances.

Bloomington-Normal knows how to do Christmas. For decades, local performers have come together to sing, act and dance, volunteering their time and talent to bring merriment to their neighbors.

Community Players’ nod to the holidays extends back to the 1940s, but their popular revue called “Holiday on Robinhood Lane” kicked off in 1984 as a fundraising initiative. They kept it going until 1991. Noticing the gap, “Holiday Spectacular” took up the mantle 21 years ago.

Call it a supercharged year of cheer, but for the first time, audiences can see both of these merry delights on back-to-back weekends at the Bloomington Center for the Arts and Community Players Theatre.

“Holiday Spectacular” director Lori Adams and playwright Nancy Steele Brokaw have been involved with the production for 20 years.

“The first year, I believe, it was mostly music,” Adams said. “The second year, I was brought on to direct and Nancy was brought on to write a script.”

While the framework basically stays the same, Brokaw writes a new scenario each year, inspired by the cast’s talents and local feel-good stories. This year, she incorporated a broad theme of “second chances” with a plot about corporate overlords trying to quash small businesses with a new big box store nearby.

Adams said the ongoing appeal of the “Spectacular” is “simply the local talent.”

“There are many professionals working on this show," she said, "but the heart of the show is up there on the stage. Those are our townspeople — people that work at State Farm or any number of other places around the community. They are talented.

“It’s a chance to be with other people from the community,” added Brokaw, “giving a gift back to this community we all love and are happy to live in.”

Across town at Community Players Theatre, preparations also are well underway for next weekend’s “Holiday on Robinhood Lane.”

This is not director Wendy Cottone's first time working with Community Players — not by a long shot.

“I think this is my 35th show that I’ve been a part of,” she said, noting her first production at Community Players was “The Music Man” at age 12.

Similar to “Holiday Spectacular,” “Holiday on Robinhood Lane” is a revue of songs strung together by a few interludes. Cottone’s role included working with music director Jess Sheetz and choreographer Jessa Hendricker to find the throughline and pack as many tunes as possible into 90 minutes.

“What I really wanted to do was bring joy and happiness to the holiday season and celebrate the diversity we have,” Cottone said.

To that end, the team incorporated songs celebrating winter and other faith traditions — plus a whole lot of Christmas songs.

In a full-circle moment, all proceeds contribute to Community Players’ fund to renovate the theater and replace the current seats — bought from original “Holiday on Robinhood Lane” funds in the ‘80s.

“Holiday Spectacular” takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 3-4) at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts, 600 N. East St. in Bloomington. Tickets are available at artsblooming.org.

You can catch “Holiday on Robinhood Lane” next weekend with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday (Dec. 8-10), and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 11) at Community Players Theatre, 201 Robinhood Lane, Bloomington. Tickets and details are at communityplayers.org.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.