Here's the most pleasurably memorable part of the Show Palace Dinner Theatre's Christmas show: the buffet. It is terrific. Kudos to executive chef Dinah Teaford and crew. You made our day — and you saved the occasion for those who quietly slipped out the door at the intermission of the two-act musical that followed dinner.
This isn't to say that "A Show Palace Christmas" is a complete washout. It has its bright spots: Tom Hansen's colorful, meticulously detailed sets; darling costumes in holiday colors; near-perfect lights and sound; 14 talented singers, a few who got tiny little chances to show they are also terrific dancers; guitarist Nick Orfanella's rendition of Leroy, the Redneck Reindeer; even an appealing premise in the script, in which Santa and his elves leave the North Pole to fly south to save Christmas in Christmas, Fla.
The problem is that, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there's not enough there there. The show is like a cute 15-minute skit at Walt Disney World, only it's stretched to fill two hours and 15 minutes, including the apparent padding near the end.
Also, the story seems headed one way — Mrs. Claus (an appealing Bonnie Smith) trying to persuade Santa Baby to fly to the warmer climes of Miami for Christmas — then veers off to Santa (Rick Kistner) and the elves trying to bring Christmas spirit to Christmas, Fla., leaving the unfinished toys back up north.
Unless a production is strictly a talent show or a school play, it needs one of two things: a terrific, coherent story line (Hello, Dolly, Showboat and Chicago, for example) or at least two or three boffo performers who can sing, dance or act while the rest of the cast supports them (think Matthew McGee, Susan Haldeman, Sara DelBeato, and/or Candler Budd).
A Show Palace Christmas has a respectable collection of fine supporting players and not a few potential stars: gifted comic Justin Lore, who plays the bad elf Sidney; Laurie Sutton, doing the lovely, love-smitten elf Esmerelda; Rebekah Shade in several roles; and Orfanella, with his unique appearance and charming demeanor.
It's just that they're not yet strong enough to carry a show, and this meandering production desperately needs a star or three as focal points, some big production numbers (the area has several great choreographers to call on) and/or a solid story.
It's the same problem that the "Fabulous '50s and '60s Revue" had in August and September, and, not coincidentally, that was also a product of LTM Productions, one of the outside companies the Show Palace started hiring to bring in shows after the owners decided to stop doing in-house shows with Equity performers.
Perhaps we Show Palace regulars have gotten spoiled over the years, expecting every production to be top-notch, and we have rarely been disappointed. After the less-than-satisfying "50s/60s" show, we thought the place was back on track with the wonderful The Sound of Music, a classic show with sterling performances by Equity actor Susan Haldeman, stage veteran Brian Minyard and obvious budding star Kelly Pekar, backed by strong supporting players and directed by the multitalented William Garon.
As the audience began shuffling toward the door 35 or 40 minutes into the second act when it appeared that the show was ending, Santa said, "Wait — we're doing our Christmas finale."
An elf shot back, "Finally?" And, no doubt, the audience agreed.