Theatre Review: “A Beef and Boards Christmas 2008”

The cast of a Beef and Boards Christmas 2008 - photo by Julie Curry

Last Saturday night, my friend Jack and I met at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indy to see “A Beef and Boards Christmas.”  The show is a family-friendly smorgasbord of Christmas music, both secular and religious, enhanced by fun choreography, make-you-groan jokes, and a touch of patriotism.

I overheard a young boy say to his mother afterwards, “That show was non-stop songs!” It is indeed.

This show is a 16-year-old tradition at B&B, but this year was our first time to see it.  (It was Jack’s first time to see any B&B show!)  B&B’s PR/Media Relations Coordinator Patricia Rettig told us that the show is made fresh each year through updates in the music and design elements, but I imagine that there is also enough that stays the same each year to make it comforting to B&B’s most loyal audience members.  It wouldn’t be a tradition otherwise!

Santa Claus (played by Ty Stover? the program doesn’t say, but it looked like him and I know he has played Santa other years at B&B) makes a couple of video appearances from the North Pole, where he is nursing a bad cold with the “help” of a rascally elf (who looked like B&B regular Jeff Stockberger, but again, the program doesn’t say.)   

However, it is Mrs. Claus (Gwendolyn Jones) who takes over the B&B show in person, tossing candy to children in the audience when she first makes her appearance, and establishing rapport quickly with the adults in the audience, too.  She calls herself “the original Desperate Housewife,” for example.  She banters the songs along by joking and flirting.  And she can belt ‘em with the best of ‘em.  Her torchy rendition of “The Man with the Bag” made me want to cheer.

Jack said, “I wonder why you never know Mrs. Claus’ first name?”  I wonder, too.  She works hard!  I’m glad that in this show, at least, she can sing, “It’s my night to shine!”

Director Eddie Curry stopped by our table before the show began.  When I introduced him to Jack as the director, Eddie said, “Oh, but 90% of the credit for this show goes to the choreographer, Ron Morgan.”

I think Eddie was too modest, but the choreography does add something special to the show (and the small company of high-energy dancers must drop ten pounds every night!)  The dancing includes some delightfully unexpected witticisms in a variety of styles: tap, jazz, swing, country, ballroom, even a touch of ballet in a reference to “The Nutcracker.” The lovely ballerina princess, aka the Sugar Plum fairy, is played by Sally Mitchell.

Everyone in the show dances, and everyone in the show sings, but most specialize in one or the other.  Vocal highlights for me included:

  • Shannon Forsell singing “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”)
  • Forsell, Amanda Lawson, and Jayson Elliott singing “Tennessee Christmas”
  • Lawson, Forsell, Tiana Checchia and the Company singing “All I Want for Christmas is You”
  • Elliott, Tony Howell, and DeUndre C. James singing “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”
  • Checchia and Kenny Shepard singing “Sleigh Ride” while being pulled and pushed around the stage by reindeer-stepping singer-dancers Brittany Snyder, Brace Rice, Teresa Diehl, and Sally Mitchell.

My press kit says that Kenny Shepard has been doing this show every year almost from the beginning.  I’m sure he is a favorite with B&B regulars.  However, I recognized him from his name and photo as being one of the creators of an unusual tribute to Elvis last year at the American Cabaret Theatre.  I wrote about it on at the time.  Last weekend at Beef and Boards, it was fun to see and hear Shepard himself sing and dance.

I also want to give a whole paragraph to vocalist Gerald Atkins.  His soulful interpretation of “Please Come Home” in Act One really made me sit up and take notice.  Jack and I were both shouting, “Yeah!” at the end of it.  His rendition of “Oh Holy Night” in Act Two is powerful also.

The dancers are all attractive, talented, and very physically fit.  In fact, most of the time the female dancers wear costumes that show off their beautiful legs, but in one number (I think it was the one called “No Christmas Like a Country Christmas”) they wear white jeans and red blouses tied to show off their sculpted tummies.  Most of the time I feel okay about the way I look, but man, I would love to have abs like theirs!

That song, by the way, is sung by Shepard, Elliott, Checchia, Forsell, and Atkins.  The dancers include everyone I’ve mentioned so far, plus Karen Webb and Rachel Burt. 

Brian Horton designed the numerous costumes for the show.  Like the music and the dancing, they offer a rich variety of holiday moods and styles, from flowing, pleated ball gowns to Raggedy Ann & Andy outfits to military uniforms.

Michael Layton designed the versatile, elegant set and the lighting.  I especially loved the pretty, filigreed cone of light at the end of “Getting in the Mood” and the festive red, green, and white spots that roamed the audience at intermission.

Jack and I both thought the video of someone’s 8mm home movies was cool, too.

Bill Mollencupp is the technical director.  Ed Stockman is the stage manager.  Daniel Hesselbrock designed the sound.

Terry Woods is the musical director.  The live orchestra is nestled up in its loft as usual.  Ernie Coleson’s sax solo during “Please Come Home” is especially hot, but all of the musicians sound good.  Woods conducts and plays keyboard.  Kristy Templet is on keyboard synthesizer.  David Coleson is on trumpet.  Tim Kelly is on percussion.

I hope you won’t think that I have spoiled the show by telling you this much about it.  There are six “chapters” to the show, and I have only mentioned a fraction of the enjoyable elements that each one contains.

The buffet, prepared by Chef Odell Ward and his staff, includes carved roast beef and turkey, comfort-food side dishes, and a crisp salad bar.  Giselle was our server, and she was just right.

Jack said, “This is not usually my kind of show, but they (the performers) are really good!”

That is how I feel, too.

A Beef and Boards Christmas” continues through New Year’s Eve.  For reservations, please call the box office at 317-872-9664 any day between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

By the way #1:  During the portion of the show where Mrs. Claus announces who in the audience is celebrating a birthday or anniversary, Jack recognized one of the couples.  We went to chat with them a bit after the show.  I enjoyed hearing about Bob & Joyce Silvers’ “Seniors Music Ministry” and their new careers as travel agents.

By the way #2, at the end of the evening, Jack surprised and delighted me by inviting me to a Pacers basketball game.  I won’t be blogging about that, of course, although I expect that live professional sports have their own share of drama!

Hope Baugh –

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