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“Holiday in the Hills,” a Folsom tradition at Sutter Street Theatre

By: Gerry Camp
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It’s that time of year again. For me and for many families in the Folsom area, Sutter Street Theatre’s annual production of “Holiday in the Hills” is not to be missed. Written by the managing directors of Sutter Street Theatre, Connie Mockenhaupt and Mike Jimena, the show has just opened its 12th version.

In her “Director’s Notes” in the program, Mockenhaupt explains: “The story takes place in the late 1800s right here on Sutter Street where the residents of the town and surrounding areas have gotten together to celebrate the holidays. A lot of research went into the people and places that were here in the late 1800s, give or take a year or two, and everyone you see was an actual resident or visitor to Folsom at that time of year.”

Sound like a boring history play? Nothing could be further from the truth. The research Mockenhaupt speaks of is all in the play’s Playbill, not on the stage. What is on the stage is the most scintillating evening of holiday-themed song and dance I’ve ever enjoyed. You won’t care that Christopher Celestin is appearing as Ab Fleckenstein, who owned a soda fountain. You’ll just be glad he’s back on stage with his outstanding singing and dancing. The beautiful Comstock sisters, Mia and Zoe, are Nan Burnham and Fannie Hoke, but there is no “final exam” where you will be expected to name the characters. With this show, all 33 cast members could be historical Folsom founders, but you will sit entranced at the beauty and skill of these delightful performers.

Hazel Johnson and Paul Griesen, here George and Evelyn Grumble, are regulars on the Sutter Street stage, and here represent the audience for the show, watching and commenting on the others, but occasionally feeling compelled to join the fun. Dian Hoel returns as stage performer Adah Isaacs, who performed tied to the back of a running stallion. At Sutter Street, Dian, in addition to performing in this show, is also the show’s choreographer, who has again made the cast into professional-quality dancers.

I can’t forget Mockenhaupt, the show’s co-author and director, as the saucy Emma Spencer, the town madam, who flirts shamelessly not only with the men in the cast, but those in the audience as well. And Mockenhaupt’s husband, Jimena, holds the show together as Peter J. Hopper, the owner and editor of the Folsom Telegraph. His reading of “The Night Before Christmas” is always a highlight of the show. Non-stop musical accompaniment is skillfully provided by Kale Coppin—the piano playing ladies man Jacob Hyman in the 1880s.

If “Holiday in the Hills” is not one of your family’s annual traditions, perhaps it should be. See this year’s show and you’ll likely resolve to return next year and hopefully many years to come. It is the most fun show you’ll see this holiday season! Oh, and you will be a participant in the show as well. Guaranteed.