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“Holiday in the Hills,” A Folsom Tradition at Sutter Street Theatre

Review by Gerry Camp

For many families, the holiday season is the time for traditions. For some 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, Connie Mockenhaupt and Mike Jimena, the show has just opened its eleventh incarnation.

In her “Director’s Notes” in the program, Mockenhaupt explains: “The story takes place in the late 1800’s 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 1800’s, 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 Kelly Mauro is playing the part of Elizabeth Hood, who operated the Western Exchange House. On Sutter Street’s stage Mauro, an Elly award winner, is a beautiful singer and spirited dancer, and she plays violin for a “hoedown” dance number. Her daughter Grace, also an Elly winner, is identified as Irma Levy, a talented young student, and Mauro’s eight-year-old daughter Annie, a charmer who steals the show for the second year running, is identified as Fannie Hake, who became a famous Dance Hall Entertainer. But there is no “final exam” where you will be expected to name the characters. Instead, you will sit entranced at the beauty and charm of this family of performers.

Another family, frequent performers at Sutter Street, is the Matta clan, here represented by brothers Benjamin, Jonathan, and Joshua and sister Rebekah. Never mind who they are supposed to be playing, just enjoy their fantastic dancing and singing.

Dian Hoel is supposed to be 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 made the cast of 34 into professional-quality dancers.

I can’t forget Connie 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 Connie’s husband, Mike 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. And John Wilder’s brilliant non-stop keyboard accompaniment can’t be topped.

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.