I've seen 15 or 16 holiday shows at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, and the one playing through Dec. 25 is by far my favorite, and, by all appearances, was a hit with the full house on opening day.
It's warm and touching without being sappy. It has a good story that gently winds through the songs but doesn't intrude on them. And every minute is entertaining but never in-your-face.
And the talent. Egad, the talent on that stage and behind the scenes is phenomenal. The 14 singers, dancers and actors each bring a special something to the show, and writer/director Matthew McGee wisely lets them show it.
There aren't enough kudos to amply reward the terrific job that McGee, choreographer/player Scott Daniel and musical arrangers Daniel, William Garon and Stan Collins have done with this show. It is, arguably, the most appealing and satisfying holiday season show that could be created: fresh, new, topical comedy lines, wonderful choices of traditional and new songs, recorded music using a convincing mix of genuine musical instruments and electronic ones that sound real, Tom Hansen's usual fine creation of sets, lights, special effects and backdrops and — I've got to say it again — talent, talent and more talent.
Set in modern Detroit, where times are tough, it's another episode in the Show Palace's "angel gets his or her wings" series that has really hit its stride.
The multi-talented Daniel plays Lance Knight, a self-centered entertainer who isn't really bad but really does need to do something for others in order to pass through the pearly gates. The angelic gatekeeper, St. "Gene" Genesius (the ever-wonderful McGee), sends Lance to the struggling St. Andrew's Church to help the ragtag choir get its act together enough to win a $20,000 prize in a citywide contest to save the church from bankruptcy.
With the help of the church pianist, a very Jewish Phyllis Gellman (Susan Haldeman), Lance auditions the choir members to see who can do what. This gives each one a chance to shine: Jesse Smith as Marcus, the shy chef, wowing everyone with a soulful, bluesy Merry Christmas Baby; Megan Wheeler as Abby, the sweet children's nurse, singing Ave Maria in Latin; Ms. Haldeman's Phyllis joining Daniel's Lance in a gorgeous We Are Lights/Shalom Aleichem; Daniel electrifying the room with O Holy Night and One Voice; and Nathalie Hostin's soul sista, Gladys Hightower, nearly bringing down the rafters with finger-snapping versions of The Christmas Song and Joy to the World.
Adding to the fun are Jorie Janeway as bad-girl Pam, Matthew Glover as proud but unemployed executive Fred, Robert Teasdale as romantic beat cop James (his I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is as clear as a bell), Gabrielle Mirabella as a politician's uptight wife (she gets the best line in the show and uses her legit soprano to great comic effect), Roy Johns as with-it janitor Henry, Megan Morgan as a Goth rebel with dancing feet, Alec Merced as multicultural Carlos, and Ryan Naimy as bookworm Christian.
A highlight comes when Johns' Henry and Naimy's Christian double-track Peace on Earth and Little Drummer Boy from opposite sides of the stage. Garon's choral arrangements on this and his eight and nine-part harmonies on other songs add depth and heft to the show's sound.
The show's 2 ½ hour length (including intermission) is just right for a holiday treat for the whole family.