by Ellen Wilson Dilks

Ambler’s Act II Playhouse has stitched together a holiday quilt of songs and comedy that will have even the biggest Grinch grinning. Created by Artistic Director Tony Braithwaite and Managing Director Howie Brown, MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT will be onstage at the Playhouse’s Butler Avenue theatre through January 3, 2015.

Continuing a theme started a few years back with LAUGHING ALL THE WAY (2013) and OH, WHAT FUN (2012), MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT is a joyous celebration of the season, while also being perversely funny. The piece lovingly pokes fun at many of our popular films and TV specials. (They even get some digs in at theatre critics.) I can imagine Braithwaite and Brown (long-time friends) sitting around the office trying to crack each other up as they devised what songs and bits to include. Joining them onstage are Will Dennis, Anne Wechsler and Sonny Leo, all very talented performers, and adept at improv. Under the direction of Mary Carpenter, this gifted ensemble sings, plays and taps their way through some expected holiday standards, as well as a few songs most have probably never heard—and may never want to again. All the while, the audience is laughing and having a wonderful time.

Of course, Braithwaite’s background as a stand-up comedian comes in very handy here, but Brown, Leo, Wechsler and Dennis are equally adept at mining the laughs. They breezily move from one bit to the next, clearly enjoying themselves as much as they hope the audience is. At one point, Leo even leaves the piano and treats the viewers to a terrific tap dance. It’s a very loosely structured piece, with plenty of audience input during the improve portions. This means that each performance will have its own unique feel, which will keep the performers on their toes for sure.

Played out on a festive set by Maura Roche, there are even some “Laugh-In”-like moments when picture frames open up and the performers deliver one-liners from behind them. And Shaw’s lighting puts the focus where needed—including on the audience a couple of times. Snazzily dressed in formal wear, the five performers look as good as they sound.

Running approximately 70 minutes (with no intermission), this is clearly a Christmas card from the bunch at Act II to their audience. If you don’t leave feeling happy and in a holiday mood, you are Ebenezer Scrooge for sure. So give yourself a treat—and a well-earned break from the hustle and bustle—and head to Ambler where Braithwaite and company are MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT.

Created by Tony Braithwaite & Howie Brown
Directed by Mary Carpenter
December 9, 2014—January 3, 2015
Act II Playhouse
56 E. Butler Avenue
Ambler, PA 19002
Info: 215-654-0200

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