Tom and Thom’s Christmas Songs and Stories – A Review (Dec. 2018)

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Thirty-seven years ago, First Presbyterian Theater Managing Artistic Director Thom Hofrichter met Tom Didier when they performed Of Mice and Men at the Fort Wayne Civic Theater.  These two friends are now currently starring in an original performance that combines their talent and creativity as they, along with local pianist Tommy Saul, deliver a holiday-themed series of songs, stories, and surprises that celebrate the season.

Didier is a Fort Wayne theater regular with several appearances at the Civic Theatre under his belt, but this is his First Presbyterian Theater debut. Fort Wayne native Saul graduated from Bishop Luers High School and has amassed an impressive  résumé that includes being the resident music director for Three Rivers Music Theatre. Director Hofrichter is completing his 22nd year in his role with the FPT this month. Regular FPT theatergoers are no doubt familiar with Hofricther’s distinct delivery, humor, and directorial standards, and this performance does not disappoint.

.   With festive decorations as a backdrop, the “Tom, Thom, and Tommy Show” is split into two distinct acts, which Hofrichter identifies in his director’s notes as the secular and the spiritual, respectively. The opening series of passages provides a delightful soundtrack of popular songs and stories that audience members are sure to recognize. While Saul remains fixed at the keyboard, Didier and Hofrichter perform solos and duets with engaging renditions of classics such as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  On his own, Didier stretches from crooner to rocker with exuberant versions of yuletide tunes such as “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Hofrichter intercedes the tunes with dramatic readings from classic Christmas tales by Charles Dickens and Clement Clarke Moore, the author of “The Night Before Christmas.” One of the most stirring portions of the opening act is a mixed-genre interpretation of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” which features Didier and Hofricter offering character-driven vignettes that connect with the theme of the classic song. This was a lovely segue into the second act due to its personal approach.  As the saying goes, this part alone is worth the price of admission by itself.

Hofrichter also notes in the program–and emphasizes to the audience prior to the brief intermission–that the second act is devoted to the heralded “true meaning of Christmas.”  Through poignant slivers of significant verses from the Bible, Hofrichter and Didier bookend the stage with spoken-word and musical companionship to the story of the birth of Christ.  Magically weaved into the original script is a connectivity of this beautiful theme to all viewers, regardless of their individual religious foundation. In other words, there is a distinct sense of humanity embedded in the second act.

Throughout the entire performance, viewers are likely to recall personal memories of the holiday season and reflect on the significance of those memories. The value of attending a review such as this has the same majestic power as all theater has: the opportunity to connect the performance to our own lives. Perhaps in the same was as Ebenezer Scrooge was, we are afforded the opportunity to view our pasts and re-experience those joyous innocent days of childhood when we first learned about the holiday.  With a balanced series of playful, heartbreaking, and spiritual songs and stories, this review is the perfect holiday season experience for audiences of all ages.

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The Grease Fire

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I was probably ten or twelve. It was probably Christmas. I think it was Christmas because we went to church and there were layers of clothing involved. So, the main ingredients of my story so far are my adolescence, the joyous season of the year, and our attendance at the annual evening service at church. That’s important. Oh, and a rug. Not just a boring squared- or rectangular rug either. I remember at least two different long oval rugs that bridged the gap between the carpet in my childhood home. It had rounded laps that ran from the inside out, giving it racetrack feel. This made for countless hours of fun for younger me to pretend the Hot Wheels in my hands were participating in an auto race or a violent crash. Or both.

In those days I had no true concept of time. That’s hyperbole. I could tell time, of course, but I only really paid attention to the clock if I knew it indicated really important stuff such as the fact that Family Ties was starting soon (Sundays) or that Night Court was coming up (Thursdays). However, because I distinctly remember it being night when it was all over, we must have gone to church in the evening and it must have been the traditional service my church proffered at the more reasonable 7:00 p.m. This may have also been the same December when my older brother adopted his affinity toward mixed nuts. Weirdly, in the same way that the craving for algaeic mushrooms haunt the stomachs and minds of Midwesterners in April, my brother Rob can be found, from Thanksgiving through New Years, eating nothing but walnuts, almonds, and those deep brown triangular-shelled jobs—which, unfortunately, held an incredibly obscene nickname from my grandmother’s generation–that put up a solid battle against any math-compass-looking nutcracker. This is also a rough month-plus for the manufacturers of microwaveable pot pies, since that constitutes the majority of his diet for the remaining 47 weeks per year.

But we must have had something quick and unnatural–like impromptu BLTs on my mother’s request–that Christmas Eve because we never had bacon as any part of our dinner. Handmade noodles? Sure. Pork roast every Sunday? Absolutely. It’s fair to say I was a spoiled child by growing up with a grandmother whose whole working-age life had been devoted to playing a role in providing food for others. The eldest of six children herself, she stayed home after eighth grade and began her functionary role within the household. I would presume cooking was put on her, but she did so much more.

This particular Christmas Eve in the late 1980s, however, she didn’t remember to turn off the burner underneath the blackened cast iron pan that unfortunately had been the one used for the BLTs or whatever bacon-based meal she’d made for us prior to going to Church. We were back from the eighty-two minute service (according to Rob’s black digital read-out watch) and were hovering over the newly filled bowl of mixed nuts while Clarence learned about the peril in which George Bailey was currently suffering.

“Oh my! Oh my! OH MY!!” is something someone probably screamed. Remember, this was like twenty-five years ago. I turned my adolescent head and watched scratchy pillows of black smoke pushing out from the kitchen and into ou dining room. “FIRE!”

I never saw it, but here’s what I think it looked like. Okay, I mean, these are words that may describe somewhat what this might have looked like to any of my family members brave enough that night to enter the cauldron that my kitchen had become:

A basketball-sized flame booming toward the unsuspecting pale ceiling from the regents of a fifteen-pound crispy cast-iron pan, stoically resting among the cluttered stovetop alongside a cylindrical container of plastic kithen utensils. As an aside, a knitted, homemade Bless This House wall-hanging was the sole bystander victim.

The point of all this is that my grandmother immediately accepted responsibility that night. She never said it, but I suspect now that it was the excitement of the religious tradition that sidetracked her septuagenarian mind that evening. In short, it may very well have been her only mistake in her ninety-five years.

My grandmother was wise enough to know that water would not extringuish this type of flame; thus, the first of the two aforementioned rugs I remember from that house was destroyed as it was used to suffocate the fire sizzling off the pan.

Ready for the bridge?

There is talk in Indiana legislation to allow guns to be legal in the parking lots on school campuses. Some places are considering allowing school personnel to have weapons on their person in a school during school hours of operation. Colleges around the nation are considering permitting students to be on campus with a weapon, as long as they also have a current permit. The debate over gun rights and restrictions is rapidly becoming more complex due to recent, tragic events in schools at all grade levels.

My grandmother made a mistake one Christmas Eve when her expert, experienced hand slipped (or really, didn’t adjust a knob), and an accident occurred. The chances of it ever happening were minuscule at best. However, if we had not had any bacon in the kitchen, the likelihood of a bacon grease fire would have diminished to zero.

If bacon had not been available for purchase at the old Baesler’s location at 25th and College, the likelihood of a bacon grease fire would have been zero.

If bacon had not been sold in Indiana, the likelihood of a bacon grease fire would have been zero.

if bacon was unavailable for purchase by any American citizen, the likelihood of an accidental bacon grease fire would have been zero.

If bacon did not exist, the likelihood of a bacon grease fire in my kitchen on Christmas Eve 1988 would have been zero.

And that poor handmade wall hanging might still be there as well.