If there’s one couple in Charleston who are experts on the joys of Christmas, it must be Brad and Jennifer Moranz. Singing, dancing, acting and laughing are standards in their holiday celebration, which they share with the whole city in their Broadway-style, sell-out variety show, “The Charleston Christmas Special.”
Married for 25 years, the couple first moved to Charleston in 1995 to open and run the Serenade Show, a musical revue show performed at the Charleston Music Hall. After the show was closed in 1998 due to new management, the Moranzes decided to start their own act. The couple has been writing, choreographing and producing musical hits ever since with their Christmas show as a clear standout. More than 9,000 audience members attend each year to see the ever-changing performance.
We caught up with the husband-and-wife duo as they geared up for the show’s 14th year to chat about their love for showbiz, each other and, of course, their favorite holiday.
How did you first fall in love with show business?
J: I grew up watching The Jackson Five, the Osmonds and the June Taylor dancers. Ever since I was little I wanted to be in a dancing family. I got into it late though and became a dance major in college. When I graduated, I went to New York and started auditioning for shows.
You soon became a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. What was that like?
J: Unbelievable. I had to pinch myself all the time. I couldn’t believe I was there. The Christmas season was tiring, we were doing two shows a day, but it was wonderful. Everyone became like family. It was a lot of fun.
B: After that, she always wanted to be in a Broadway show and she actually had to quit the Rockettes when she got a part in the original showing of “42nd Street.”
J: Everyone thought I was crazy for quitting, and it was a hard decision to make.
Brad, you’re also a man of many talents. How did you get into the business?
J: He can do everything! He doesn’t cook…but he does do dishes.
B: I grew up playing piano and loving music. When I saw the Beatles, I decided to take up guitar. It wasn’t until college that I was introduced to dance. I grew up in Texas….and guys don’t dance in Texas. I always loved athletics but was too scrawny to play sports. In dance, I got to be athletic to music and I fell in love with ballet.
J: He even took a dance class taught by Patrick Swayze’s mom!
B: I did. I was actually an acting major in college, was dancing with this ballet company and then switched majors to composing. When the national tour of “Chorus Line” came through town, I auditioned. I auditioned on a Thursday, got the part and left town on Tuesday. I toured with them a year and a half and then decided to go to New York where I got the part of Groucho in “A Day in Hollywood, A Night in Ukraine” and then Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
How did you two meet?
J: I had seen him in several shows, but had never met him. We were in the same circle, but we never met until we both got parts in the national tour of “Singing in the Rain.”
B: She was a dancer in the chorus line…
J: And he kept making me laugh! I tried not to get fired for laughing.
B: We just giggled the whole time. We would sit and giggle at times we should have been paying attention. Giggling led to going bowling...
J: Which led to handholding…
B: Which led to everything else.
Now all these years later, you’re still working together. How is it working with your spouse?
B: Most the time, it’s good.
J: We’ve learned to agree to disagree. We’re just so passionate about what we do, sometimes it can get heated. But hopefully it makes a better product in the end.
B: By the end of the day, we always agree. Once it’s on stage, we can say to the other, “You were right. I just couldn’t see it.”
J: It’s two opinions working toward the same goal.
B: Primarily, we want to lift people’s spirit and make them feel joyful.
J: We want to make them feel better than when they walked in.
When the Serenade show closed in 1998, you started putting on the shows yourself and are still writing and choreographing each show. What was it like going into business for yourself?
B: We made so many mistakes and lost so much money. But it’s okay. It’s like the saying “How do you learn the right answers? By making the wrong ones.”
J: We’re still learning, now we’re just making new mistakes.
B: We’ve added more shows. The same joy we bring to the Christmas show is in every other show we do, it’s just themed differently and Santa’s not in it. Next up, we’re looking at doing a Charleston Variety Show.
What is it about the Christmas show that makes it such a major hit each year? Especially with families.
J: It’s so family oriented and enjoyable for all ages. It’s heartfelt and toe tapping and you get wrapped up in the fun costumes, the dancers, the kids and the orchestra onstage, the whole experience.
B: It’s like waking up on Christmas morning. That’s what the show feels like.
Since you’re working on this show almost year-round, do you ever get sick of Christmas?
J: No. It could be Christmas 365 days a year and I’d be happy.
B: It pretty much is for us. Our neighbors hear Christmas music coming out of our house in July.
How do you make family time during the busy holiday season?
J: Our family is the theater that time of year.
B: We try to hire cast members we like because we know we’ll be spending a lot of time with them. Every time you do a show, you develop a family. You really do get that close.
J: On stage and off stage, everyone cares for each other.
B: These are friendships that really do last a lifetime.
And of course, you’re always with each other even when you’re at work…
B: We don’t do well a part. We’re so joined at the heart and hip, we even go to the grocery store together. It was meant to be that we would work together.
Any favorite holiday traditions?
J: Before every show we all hold hands in a circle and pray. That is Christmas for us. We all have the same goal and that is to lift the audience’s spirits. It’s like being in the living room with family and everyone’s just there to have a good time. The audience is like part of the show.
B: We’ve seen families come to the show every year and watched their kids grow up. They’re like part of the family.