Best for: smaller children, brunch
Worst for: Santa, familiar carols, sound
Completing the trifecta of dinner-and-show Christmas spectaculars opening in the area just before Thanksgiving is BOOGIE WOOGIE CHRISTMAS. Directed by Allenberry artistic director Roque Berlanga, it is written by Allenberry's Jackie Heinze and comes in, miraculously, at 70 minutes, short enough to keep small children attentive. The script – this revue has a plot – is all-but-Tom-Brokaw-approved, a story of Christmas for the Greatest Generation.
Set partly at Grandpa's house, and partly in the past at a USO Christmas dance, Michael Hudson Heath stars as the grandfather amusing his grandson during a Christmas Eve power outage by promising a story of a World War Two fighting ace. The story of fighter pilot Hank, however, isn't one of war and battle, it's the story of meeting the love of his life on Christmas Eve at the Hartford, Connecticut USO.
Being set during the war, and at a club, this show is not all Christmas carols – in fact there are relatively few carols, but plenty of Andrews Sisters songs and other 1940's winter hits – yes, you will get to hear "Baby, It's Cold Outside," one of the best seasonal non-holiday songs in the winter repertoire, along with the Christmas version of "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree". (If you don't know "Don't Stand Under the Mistletoe", you've stayed away from too many Christmas parties.) The smallest among your party won't know most of the numbers off the cuff, there being no choruses of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" or other juvenile Christmas delights, but there are no songs they shouldn't learn.
Notable performances besides Heath's include Lauren Ballard as Violet, one of the "Sutherland Sisters," the Hartford USO's Andrews Sisters clones, and Jonathan Butts as Roy, the club's male singer and emcee. Lynne O'Shaughnessy takes a couple of solos as Betty, the USO's female solo singer, who has her own eye on Fighting Ace Hank (Drew Thomaski). Hank is the stuff of Tom Brokaw chapters on American soldiers, a little too good to be true, but… it's Christmas.
If your idea of a Christmas revue involves adorable children, this is your show this season – there are several very adorable ones in this production. John Davis plays the grandson who hears the tale of Hank when his electronic game console fails. Eden King, Emily Reusswig, Sophie Reusswig, and Christian Yeager round out the complement of cuteness on stage. Their acting-out of the story of Christmas at the USO and their caroling following should get smiles from even the most Grinch-like among the audience – and would get even more so if they were a bit easier to hear. The children don't seem to be as well-miked as the adults. On the other hand, even the Grinch-like reviewer was charmed by them. Adult castmates, beware of the competition.
There are a few glitches here – sound issues, my serious wish that there had been live music for this show, rather than pre-recorded sound, and my total disbelief that a nine-months-pregnant entertainer would be tap-dancing away during a Christmas show (it's part of the plot, though, not a strange casting problem – relax), especially in the 40's. The sound issues and a few of the choreography mis-steps will no doubt tighten up during the run. May I say I would also have enjoyed one of the traditional zany, slightly deranged Allenberry Christmas elves in the show – just to have one there?
This is an ideal show for an afternoon with smaller children. Allenberry's lunch and dinner menus are substantially similar, but the infamous Allenberry sticky buns make an excellent brunch treat, and there should be time, if the weather is good, to allow the smaller playgoers to run around on the property and work some of the sugar rush out of their systems before the show starts. Even though there's no Santa and no medley of carols all children know by heart, there should be more than enough Christmas cheer for them, in a space of time that they can handle. For grandparents who would like to introduce young grandchildren to live theatre, this is a manageable holiday event.
At Allenberry through December 23; call 717-258-3211 or visit www.allenberry.com.