After this many years, it seems like it’s not quite Christmas until Ellen Travolta gathers up a bunch of friends and puts on a show.
Since 2013, when Travolta stepped up to put on “A Christmas Cabaret” at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, in the wake of the closure and subsequent restructuring of Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, the resort’s Shore Room has been the place to be for songs, stories, comedy, and a low-key, old-school evening of holiday cheer.
For 2022, Travolta is rounding up a big group of friends – daughter Molly Allen and sister Margaret Travolta, along with cabaret singers Abbey Crawford and Mark Cotter, director Troy Nickerson and musicians Eugene Jablonsky (bass) and Jenny Shotwell (piano) – in a show that honors the past while bringing in the new.
“The Best of Christmas,” which opens Friday and continues through Dec. 18, will include a selection of the community-submitted stories from recent editions of the show.
“What was hard each year was out of the hundreds of stories submitted, we had to pick,” Travolta said. “And now out of the pick of the pick, we had to pick.”
How did she and her team make the hard decisions? “We put our favorites in a bowl and picked them out,” she said. “It was luck of the draw.”
One big change this year comes about because of the presence of two cabaret singers, Cotter and Crawford.
“So I have more music,” she said, “because I have two cabaret singers. … And they’re going to do a duet, so I have more music than I’ve had before. A lot of it will be old, and some will be new. Abbey will sing a couple song’s she’s not sung before, but then we’ll have some of the memorable numbers.”
She and her sister will tell a Travolta family story, and probably will sing “Sisters,” a popular number from previous shows. Allen will tell a couple stories as well, and the whole thing should clock in at about 70 minutes or so.
The process of putting together the show, which traditionally runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving over four weekends leading up to Christmas, takes months. When asked when she starts putting together the following year’s show, she quipped, “ Jan. 2.”
“I think about it all year. It’s always on my mind,” Travolta said.
For Travolta, who turned 83 in October, the show is more than an opportunity to stay busy in an industry she’s worked in since her late teens. For years, she has been able surround herself with family and friends who in turn perform for more family and friends in the audience.
Those friends, the fans, love that the show is local, Travolta said. “You couldn’t do this show in a big city,” she said. “To reach out an ask people to share their stories, and we’ll have people in the audience and say, ‘Oh, I know her,’ out loud, ‘I know them,’ or ‘Oh, that was my teacher.’ The fact that we’re all local – I bring in Mark, but Mark lived here a long time – and they’re all incredibly professional … and I think people take pride in that.”
So much so that attending the Travolta Christmas show has become a tradition for many.
“Opening night, I have about 40 people that come. They come at 4 o’clock, they go to Beverly’s, have dinner and watch the fireworks out the window,” Travolta said. “And then come to the opening night of the show.
“I think in this world, people like a little consistency. You like the idea of something that is constant. It’s become something that people look forward to.”