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Sweet 16 The tried and new for Touchstone Theatre ‘Christmas City Follies’

It’s “Sweet 16” for “Christmas City Follies,” Dec. 3 - 20, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem.

“Being that it was the sixteenth year, I said to the ensemble, ‘Whatever we want to turn this into at this point, we can. Nothing’s sacred. If we want to lose some characters, we can,’” says Jp Jordan, Touchstone Artistic Director who’s directing “Follies” for the eighth year.

“But in the process, we lost nothing. Everything stuck around. By means of the process, it turned out that everything was sacred in a way.”

The “Big Three” are back: Touchstone co-founder Bill George’s cantankerous storytelling clown “The Old Guy”; Mary Wright’s sweet and silent “Little Red,” and the immortal musical number “The Shopping Cart Ballet.”

Music is as integral to “Follies” as the comedy. Returning as music director is Kevin O’Boyle, whose group The Sugar Pills performed as part of “Follies” one year. O’Boyle, piano and guitar, will be augmented by the cast on music instruments.

Along with returning favorites, there are new sketches, new characters, personal stories from company members and original and adapted holiday music. The community guest will be on certain nights, not every performance.

“One of the fun-est things for me is that we’re introduced to Santa’s newest album,” Jordan says, adding, “It’s kind of like a TV commercial where Michael Crawford sings the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

“We teach people how to prepare for Black Friday.

“We once again set sail on the high seas for an island paradise. We had a lot of reaction asking for that sketch. So, without saying Pirates or Pandas ... There will be perhaps be a special black-and-white friend in attendance.”

Each of the two acts is about 45 min. “Follies” rehearsals began the first week in October. The cast includes Emma Chong, Touchstone Apprentices Raven Dailey and Julia Elberfeld and Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts Intern Padra Crisafulli.

“I like that we don’t introduce them to what we’ve done before. We don’t want to look at the previous show.

“We want to get the freshest ideas. And with the characters that come back we need to find new scenarios. They need to remain relevant.”

Jordan was asked about the process of creating “Follies”:

“There’s no methodology that we don’t employ. It could be that everybody’s in a room and the director’s conducting the jam, or that we break out into separate groups and write and everyone’s presenting proposals. If there’s a way to get at a creative idea then we employ it.”

A “Follies” Saturday matinee was again added because of ticket demand. The majority of performances sell out.

“Follies” is suitable for all ages. “It’s kind of like ‘The Muppets Show.’ The whole family will enjoy it, but the adults will take a little more out of it,” says Jordan. “There’s multiple storylines that wrap themselves up. I can definitely tell you that I like to wrap my shows up at the end.”

“This year [directing ‘Follies’] especially has been a real pleasure after these two huge projects, two-year projects that we did, “Journey From The East” and “Dear Tamaqua,” both of which culminated last spring and summer.

Looking ahead, Jordan says, “We’re looking to mark the 20th anniversary of ‘Steelbound’ [presented in 1999 at the Foundry at Steelstacks].”

“Christmas City Follies XVI,” 8 p.m. Dec. 3 - 5, 10 - 12, 17 - 19; 2 p.m. Dec. 6, 13, 19, 20, Touchstone Theatre, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem. In the Touchstone Gallery: “Seeing Surfaces And Beyond: Paintings And Drawings” by George K. Shortess. touchstone.org, 610-867-1689. On Thursdays, Touchstone offers a pay-what-you-will ticket option at the door.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTOFavorite characters are back and new characters join “Christmas City Follies XVI,” Dec. 3 - 20, Touchstone Theatre, Bethlehem.