Actor’s death makes “Every Christmas Story” in Boulder more poignant
by Clare Martin (Read the original.)
Going on with the show is one of theater’s Ten Commandments, but it’s not easy in the aftermath of a beloved actor’s’ death.
Daniel Langhoff, who died of colon cancer on Nov. 12 at the age of 42, originated his role in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company’s 2016 production of the holiday mash-up Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!).
Last year, Langhoff played one of three male roles in Every Christmas Story, taking on the character of a wide-eyed innocent who firmly believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, and possibly also a talking sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.
Langhoff’s improvised asides left the audience, and often the rest of the cast, in stitches. He channeled what he saw in his toddler daughter, who was just old enough to absorb the magic and meaning of Christmas. As the cast and crew rehearse the current show, Langhoff’s presence hovers over them.
“It’s hard,” Remaly continued, “wonderful as the holidays are, almost everyone has someone missing. It feels like there’s a little hole inside you. In doing this show, we are paying homage to Daniel in the best way we can.”
Justin Walvoord, who was in the 2016 production, feels that absence as well. He loved the impulsiveness that Langhoff brought to his role – “it was like he’d jumped into the mind of a 5- or 6-year-old,” Walvoord said – and misses Langhoff’s “little moments and quirkiness.”
Walvoord has performed before in the wake of a family death, and his own holiday rituals shifted dramatically after his grandmother died several years ago, ending the tradition of spending Christmas Eve at her home.
Like others who lost a friend or relative this past year, the cast and crew of Every Christmas Story, particularly the parents, say that Langhoff’s death led them to look at the season with fresh eyes.
“It makes me feel grateful for the little things,” said actor Brian Kusic, who knew Langhoff as a student at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“My brother just had a baby, and that alone made this holiday different for me. It makes me want to go and bring snow to them. Christmas is so important in a child’s life, and with Daniel’s family, you know his children never will have that with him. The world feels a little less stable now that it used to. But nothing’s been promised to humanity. And the stories we tell every year are our way of going on.”
So Kusic, Walvoord and Casey Andree, who is picking up the role Langhoff played last year, are going on with the show. They dig into scenes and scenery, mining comedy gold in the script and off. What made the snow on stage left drift differently from the snow in the windows on stage right?
They’ll find a funny answer, and they’ll sing a breathless conglomerate of 20 Christmas songs (maybe more) in less than two minutes, and they’ll find a way to provoke laughter in their unlikely connections between Tiny Tim, Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and assorted seasonal tropes. (Important spoiler for parents with children under age 11: Every Christmas Story discloses the sad truth about the fiction of the jolly old elf, so parents should leave young believers at home with a babysitter.)
“Daniel was a silly, fun, warm guy,” Remaly said.
“What better way to remember him than to have a theater full of people laughing and enjoying the show?”
Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then some!) written by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald and John K. Alvarez, performed by the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, through Dec. 24 at Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder; tickets $20 and up at 303-444-7328, or online at betc.org/event/xmas