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Aurora Theatre's 'Christmas Canteen' brings holiday cheer

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in the opening act of their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora

Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in the opening act of their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in the opening act of their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

IF YOU GO

• What: Aurora Theatre’s “Christmas Canteen”

• When: Show opens Friday at 8 p.m. Runs through Dec. 23

• Where: The Aurora Theatre, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville

• Cost: $20 to $40

• For more information about dates, times and tickets: Visit www.auroratheatre...

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Brandon O'Dell and Erin Meadows share the stage in Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 during their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Jevares C. Myrick performs in the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 during its 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in the opening act of their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville. Performances for Gwinnett's longest running theatrical holiday show are Wednesday Saturday at 8:00pm Saturday & Sunday at 2:30pm.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Tedra Chriss proforms in the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 during its 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in the opening act of their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage for their 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie The cast of the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 lines the stage in the 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Tedra Chriss performs in the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 during its 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Jevares C. Myrick, right, leads the rest of the cast in a proformance during the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 during its 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

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Photo: Andrew McMurtrie Erin Meadow, left, Stacey Elizabeth Stone, center, and Tedra Chriss, right, share the stage in the Aurora's Christmas Canteen 2011 during its 16th annual holiday show at the Aurora Theater in Lawrenceville.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- As one of the Aurora Theatre's annual traditions, director Anthony Rodriguez and his crew have created a new version of their holiday musical, "Christmas Canteen," which opens tonight.

Rodriguez, along with writer Brandon O'Dell, musical director and assisting producer Ann-Carol Pence, and choreographer Ricardo Aponte, worked tirelessly to arrange, design and construct a fresh version of the show, which morphs slightly year to year.

"After 16 years, there are portions of the show that we keep, but there is new stuff we add every year, so it's always a little different," he said. "It keeps everyone excited. It's always funny when people tell me what they remember (when they watch the performance), but it has never been in the show."

Before any actors hit the stage, a live four-piece band called AC and The Canteen Band, led by Pence on the piano wait to start the show. They are the music for the entire performance, which lasts approximately two hours.

When the musical starts, it is nonstop until intermission. Six performers, O'Dell, Jevares Myrick, Eric Moore, Stacey Stone, Tedra Chriss and Erin Lorette travel through numerous musical genres to spread holiday cheer. They start with introductions before delving into country songs, like The Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy, Take Me Away" and Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" fully equipped wearing a cowboy hat and boots and playing tambourines.

Before you know it, the group has brought you into rock 'n' roll, which is set in a '50s diner, singing The Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" and Bill Haley and His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock."

"The '50s, you can't go wrong with that music. It really gets you moving," Cynthia Hartwell of Lawrenceville said. "It's certainly gotten me in the Christmas spirit."

As the songs change, so do the costumes. When the group performs Motown classics, the ladies wear flashy blue, purple and green floor-length dresses with feathers sown into the collar and at the end of one sleeve while the men wear pastel button-up shirts, white pants and cummerbunds.

The cast belts out the Jackson 5's "ABC" and The Supremes' holiday rendition of "Baby Love" called "Santa Claus."

When the theater first created the show, it was based around 1940s World War II with scenes set in a bombed out farmhouse in France and other various locations. But after so many years, the writers and performers were ready to expand the show and music to cover a larger variety of tunes. "Christmas Canteen" isn't a military show anymore, yet there is an armed forces tribute after the intermission with pictures of local patrons, friends and family who has served over the years.

The rest of the show consists of more merriment for the holidays with tunes like Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby" and other Christmas classics.

"They have performed continuously, nonstop," Jean Nash of Lilburn said. "They are vivacious when they're doing it, they are really feeling it."

Shows have sold out on Dec. 3, 7, 10 and 11.