A holly-jolly musical’s world premiere is being presented now at The Cleveland Play House and is sure to get you in a festive mood. Light It Up! a family-friendly musical event running until Dec. 22 at Allen Theatre, written and composed by Jason Michael Webb and Lelund Durond Thompson features original holiday pop, rock, gospel, and jazz, as well as new arrangements of Christmas classics from Webb, a Tony Award-winning composer and arranger.
The show began as a series of original songs and new arrangements of Christmas carols for Broadway's "Carols for a Cure" project, annual recordings supporting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS."
Webb and Thompson created the title song for the project to capture a different perspective on the holiday season. “What came to me is an idea of lighting it up,” Thompson says. “Especially around the holidays, I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my family, and I know that not everybody is out celebrating. Some are also mourning. "We wanted to create a piece that uplifts people after loss, and offers them an opportunity to feel, inspire and connect."
For Thompson, the song is a tangible example of the glimmering lights of a Christmas tree.
“The song “Light it Up” would be a great Christmas song if we tied in lighting up our own lives and the lives of others that you have the opportunity to encounter,” he says. “Everywhere we go, we have the chance to live and spread love.” Once the song was recorded, Thompson knew that it had even more potential. Now, even he admits it’s grown to be even bigger than he imagined.
While creating the production, Thompson and Webb settled on Light It Up! taking place in a fictional city called Tinselville where the residents are celebrating their annual Christmas Tree lighting. The play also has plenty of Northeast Ohio connections as well, as two of the cast members are from the area while Durond is an alumnus of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House MFA Acting Program, and Webb (a Tony Award-winning composer) previously created musical arrangements for the Play House's 2018 production of Marie & Rosetta.
“I hope the audience sees themselves. We are more alike as humans than different,” Thompson says. “The show is more than just a Christmas celebration, it’s showcasing the light that we can find, stand in, and carry with us beyond just the holiday season.”
Thompson’s favorite part of the show features a section where the Tinselville community players present their production of the “Festival of Light,” which draws from other Holiday traditions like Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Santa Lucia. “It’s not something that we get to experience in many other pieces,” he says.” It’s a magical part of the show.