Theatre Review: “A Beef and Boards Christmas”

Kenny Shepard and Deb Wims - photo by Julie Curry.

Last Saturday night, my friend David and I met at the Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis to see their seventeenth annual Christmas variety show, aptly titled “A Beef and Boards Christmas.”  It was directed by Elizabeth Stark and choreographed and co-directed by Ron Morgan, with musical direction by Terry Woods.

On the night we saw it – which was only the second night of its run – some parts were more polished than others.  Some of the performers were still finding their pitches, for example.  There were also a few disappointing artistic choices – e.g., odd harmonies, jarring transitions, overly safe design elements, etc.

However.

Even with the show’s weaknesses, David and I had a good time just being at Beef and Boards.  Also, I think there are still enough treats in this variety show to satisfy every member of an American Christian family looking to dress up a little and spend a festive yet comfortable and nostalgic night out together.  This event has the potential to be both a memory-maker and a memory-prompter for a family.  The variety includes not only a variety of songs and dance styles but also generous servings of costumed characters, jokes, multi-media elements, and sacred storytelling.

Our Favorite Parts

I wanted to lift my hands in praise to the Creator when opera singer Chris Dickerson sang “Oh Holy Night” (but I’m Episcopalian, so instead I just clapped wildly when it was over.)  David loved Chris’ rendition of “Sleigh Ride” because it reminded him of his all-time favorite rendition by Johnny Mathis.  David also laughed out loud in delight when Chris sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

“It sounds just like the cartoon!” David said.

(Morning after update: I posted this review before going to bed and now, re-reading it the next morning, I realize that I didn’t say what I most wanted to say about Chris Dickerson’s voice:  It is DEEP, and so rich that molecules re-align themselves in happier formations when he sings.

There.  Can you tell that listening to him was a physical experience more layered than mere listening?  I enjoyed it very much.)

I was charmed whenever Deb Wims and Kenny Shepard were on stage.  (They are in the photo, above, taken by Julie Curry – www.JulieCurryPhotography.com.)  Their easy rapport with each other and with the audience was a layer of pleasure on top of their graceful dancing and beautiful singing.

I also loved the variety in the songs.  Some, like the “Merry Christmas Darling/I’ll Be Home” medley, gave me a tight throat and moved me to think of my own loved ones that I wish lived closer.  (Cara Noel Antosca and Loren Christopher sing the roles of wife at home and husband serving in the armed forces away from home, respectively.  They are joined by Chris Dickerson, Kenny Shepard, DeUndre James, and Eric Allen Smith, each in different military uniforms provided by costumer Brian Horton.  And by the way, the lighting for this number, designed by scenic designer Ryan Koharchik, is exquisite.)

Others, like the jazzy “Getting in the Mood” made me laugh out loud.  (It is mischievously sung and jitterbugged by B&B’s artistic director, Douglas E. Stark and the six sweetly sexy chorus girls: Chelsea McLean, Sally Mitchell, Sara Brophy, Teresa Diehl, Brace Rice, and Shari Katz.)

Still other songs made me laugh simply because I had never even imagined such songs existed.  Have you ever heard of “Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey?”  (It is sung, danced, and…snorted? snuffled? what sound do donkeys make when they are just breathing? Anyway, this number is performed by youthful cuties Sally Mitchell and Eric Allen Smith.)

And still other songs were satisfying because they are personal holiday favorites of mine and they were performed well Saturday night.  Hillary Helmling sings the classic “White Christmas,” for example.  Amanda Lawson nails “The Christmas Song” and later leaves everyone in “uplifted” mode with an energetic “Joy to the World” at the end.

My favorite special effect was the ice skating rink, and that’s all I’m going to say about that so that I don’t completely spoil it for you.  (Technical direction by Bill Mollencupp.  Ed Stockman is the stage manager.)

My favorite part of Daniel Hesselbrock’s sound design was the crowd noises at the mall.

My favorite part of Brian Horton’s costume design was the men’s shoes.

My favorite teenager was Anna Lasbury.  Well, actually, Anna is the only teenager in the show, and technically, according to my press kit, she is only 12 years old.  Still, she seems mature for her age, and in any case, from my middle-aged perspective she admirably represents her age group with an authentic mix of bratty angel, endearing rascal, and child/adult in the persona she presents in the show.

She also has one of the best screams I’ve ever heard.

What Are You Doing New Year’s?

David and I both commented that the Beef and Boards orchestra sounded even better than usual.  (And it always sounds good!)   My press kit includes a page about a special New Year’s Eve celebration that:

“…features the scrumptious holiday buffet and the final performance of A Beef & Boards Christmas 2009.  Then, the Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre Orchestra takes the stage and performs for patrons to dance out the final hours of 2009.  Party favors prepare everyone to herald in the New Year, as Times Square lights up the theatre’s two big screens and the ball drops at midnight.  Balloons drop from the theatre’s rafters in celebration.  But the evening isn’t over!  The celebration continues with a champagne toast, more dancing and a scrumptious breakfast buffet provided by Chef Odell Ward and his staff.”

If I didn’t already have plans for New Year’s, I think this would be a fun, romantic, and safe-from-crazy-drivers way to welcome 2010, especially for already partnered-up people who enjoy ballroom dancing as opposed to club dancing.

The orchestra includes Terry Woods (conductor/keyboard), Neil Broeker (woodwinds), David Coleson (trumpet – I loved his horse impression, too!), Tim Kelly (percussion), and Kristy Templet (keyboard.) 

Media Night – The Toughest Audience?

The night that David and I went was Media Night.  B&B’s Marketing Director, Patricia Rettig invites members of both traditional media (newspaper, radio, etc.) and new media (bloggers like myself) to see almost every B&B show on its first Saturday.  Usually, I think, the media make up a relatively small percentage of the audience.

On this particular Saturday, however, only four people were celebrating birthdays and only one couple was celebrating a wedding anniversary.  I think everyone else was media!  David and I watched Patricia go around and greet people at a lot of other tables.  Later she told us that there were representatives there from more than TWENTY media outlets!

That must have been nerve-wracking for the performers.

What does that have to do with reviewing the show?  Nothing.  I’m just saying: more than TWENTY public judges at once!

I was delighted when a woman came up to our table and introduced herself as Melissa Hall.  She, too, writes about theatre in the Indianapolis area.  Her blog is called Stage Write.  Read her take on the B&B Christmas show here.

Odds’n’Ends

Miguel, our server, was just right.  David noticed that all of the servers had new uniforms:  aprons plus subtly striped shirts instead of white ones. 

We think someone put butter cream frosting in the vanilla pudding container on the buffet by mistake.  On the other hand, what’s more traditional than licking the frosting spoon after icing a dozen times a dozen Christmas cookies for the church bazaar?   Maybe it wasn’t a mistake.

(12/3/09 – Update from B&B’s Patricia Rettig:  “…no, that wasn’t vanilla pudding on the buffet. But it wasn’t butter cream frosting, either! It’s actually a dessert called ‘cheesecake delight.’ Yummy, isn’t it?”      Thanks for the tasty tidbit, Patricia!)

The broccoli with cheese sauce was swoon-worthy.

Box Office and the 2010 Season

“A Beef and Boards Christmas” runs through December 31, 2009.  Also playing at B&B this month is a “one-hour music-filled presentation” of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” starring Eddie Curry as Ebenezer Scrooge and WRTV6’s Trisha Shepherd as the Ghost of Christmas Past. For more information and to make a reservation for either show, please visit www.beefandboards.com or call the Box Office at 317-872-9664.

B&B’s season begins with the beginning of the calendar year, so now is the time to think about becoming a VIP member.  VIP members enjoy buy-one-get-one-free seats all season long. 

Much of the 2010 B&B season intrigues me and/or I expect to be delighted by it.  Here is the line-up:

  • The Foreigner” – I saw a community theatre production of this last year that was a hoot.  I am looking forward to seeing what a professional company does with it.
  • Footloose” – I wonder which came first, the movie or the stage version?  Well, anyway, I expect this will have a good story and attractive dancing.  Will I jump up and dance in the aisles, too, to affirm my right to do so?  We’ll see.
  • Hello, Dolly!” – I loved the Barbra Streisand movie and I enjoyed a community theatre production of this show earlier this year.  Again, I look forward to seeing what B&B does with it, especially the dancing waiters’ scenes.
  • Always…Patsy Cline” – The little I know of this country music icon I know from watching the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” a gazillion times, but I would like to know more. I’ve got “the Patsy Cline” station playing on Pandora as I write this.  Hitch your voice in song with me, won’t you:  “Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely, I’m crazy, crazy for feelin’ so blue…”
  • Disney’s High School Musical” – This is the least appealing show to me in B&B’s 2010 line-up, but I don’t think that I am its intended audience anyway.  I will try to keep an open mind, though, especially since I have only seen the movie so far.
  • Church Basement Ladies” – This sounds like a FUN show!  If a church community doesn’t have humor and drama along with love and reverence, I don’t know what does.
  • Camelot” – I don’t really know anything about this famous show, but just hearing the title puts me in a romantic, King Athur-y mood, so I’m looking forward to discovering what it is actually about.
  • Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: the Musical” – I am curious to see how the stage show differs from the movie, which I remember as lovely.  Also, I think that given a choice between a variety show and a show that has a solid story arc, I’d prefer the good story.

Well, as Santa would say, “Ho, ho, ho!” and…see you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

5 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “A Beef and Boards Christmas””

  1. Thanks, Gary! That is, indeed, an interesting article. I love that she set records not only in terms of her musical recordings but also in terms of the pay and other recognition she received that no other female country music singer had received before.

    I am very much looking forward to the B&B show about her!

  2. Footloose, the movie, came first. The musical was part of a wave of Broadway attempts to transform 70s/80s soundtrack-heavy films to stage, including Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy. None were very successful on Broadway but Footloose has had a strong life in regional productions.

    FYI: My thoughts on B&B Xmas will be part of a piece in IBJ this week that includes the IRT’s A Christmas Carol and A Very Phoenix Xmas.

    See you at Yuletide Celebration?

    –Lou

  3. Thanks very much, Lou, for the background info on “Footloose!” And for the laughs: I am now trying to imagine live, staged productions of “Saturday Night Fever” and “Urban Cowboy.” Hah!

    I read your reviews on ibj.com faithfully every Saturday morning, so I will look forward to reading your takes on the three Christmas shows.

    I am SAD to report that I will not, after all, be at Yuletide Celebration tonight. I had SUCH a good time at it last year, but I learned yesterday that a meeting at my “day” job may run a little late tonight, preventing me from getting downtown in time. The meeting will be an enjoyable one, so I don’t begrudge it, and anyway, my day job is what finances my theatre blogging hobby, so I wouldn’t begrudge it even if I weren’t looking forward to it. I just wish I could be two places at once!

    Tim at the ISO offered to get me in another time, which I very much appreciated(!) but I don’t really have an opening on my calendar again until February. However, I have had my eye (my ear?) on the Symphonic Hits series ever since I received my first press release about it in early fall. It sounds EXACTLY suited to me and my lack of symphony appreciation experience. I am going to try to go to one or more events in the Symphonic Hits series in 2010.

    Say “hi” to the reindeer and dancing Santas for me tonight, will you?

    (And of course I will look forward to reading your thoughts on the whole show.)

  4. I forget to say when I was commenting during my lunch break earlier that I, too, will share thoughts on the 4th annual Phoenix Xmas show. That post will probably go up on Saturday morning.

    Short version: It is the best Phoenix holiday show yet!

    Guess what else? (bringing this back to Beef and Boards…)

    Someone left a comment today on my post about B&B’s production of “Annie” from a few months ago. He and his wife are planning a road trip from Wisconsin to Florida and they want to stop in Indy so they can see another B&B show. How fun is that!

    See his comment here:

    http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2009/05/24/annie-at-beef-and-boards-dinner-theatre/

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