Coney Island Christmas Shines, Brings Laughs and Important Holiday Message

The laughter didn’t stop in the Drama Theatre of Frostburg State University’s Performing Arts Center on Friday night as the Theatre and Dance Department performed their production of Coney Island Christmas. The play opened on December 3 and unveiled a polished, touching production full of simply hilarious performances and a poignant message about a common human experience.

Boasting an ensemble cast of both FSU students and local primary students, Coney Island Christmas tells the story of a young Jewish girl in 1930’s New York City, whose part in a school Christmas play causes concern for her Jewish immigrant parents. The family friendly production is beautifully balanced and manages to provide ample comic relief alongside the fairly mature themes of religion, conflict, and individuality.

Leading the production is senior Maureen Groff, who shines as the young Shirley Abramowitz. Groff’s comical, brassy performance (including an impressive accent) evokes Funny Girl vibes, albeit minus the glamour and with the addition of a bildungsroman plight.

Austin Hueg plays Mr. Abromowitz, Shirley’s father. Hueg gets a memorable emotional singing solo, done largely in Hebrew.

Standout performances from primary students include Donny Ness, a sixth grader at Braddock Middle School. Ness’s portrayal of the Archangel Gabriel is particularly well done. He brings abundant comedy to the entire production and stands out among his peers.

Six year old Ethan Kwok’s adorable performance repeatedly swells the hearts of audience members throughout his play appearances. Guy Witt’s musical talents are commendable, as are the witty one-liners dropped by Sophia Brill and the class-clownish performance of Spencer Samples.

One of the most surprising aspects of the production is the finesse with which it delivers its message. The play, at times, plays off of aspects of Jewish culture in a comical manner. The theme of cultural differences is unabashedly explored, with respect but lacking meekness. At one point, a modern commentator, Shirley’s granddaughter, questions the usage of the term “Indians” when discussing Thanksgiving. Modern day Shirley, played by sophomore Alex Hemphill, reminds her granddaughter that things were a bit different in the 1930’s. The play is largely able to set aside the modern notion of political correctness for the sake of comedy and the exploration of cultural and religious themes. Yet, the production unquestionably promotes inclusiveness and equality in a manner that allows humans to laugh at themselves. One leaves the play with a reminder that our differences are, after all, what make us special.

Coney Island Christmas is particularly relevant given the current state of the world we live in. As December holidays approach, a message of peace and an acknowledgement of differences provides a much-needed reminder of the importance of individuality but the commonality of passion, faith, and love, as well as the unity that these experiences can provide.

Coney Island Christmas is playing on December 10, 11, and 12 at 7:30 p.m. Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. will be held on December 6 and 13. Tickets can be purchased at the door on a general seating basis.

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