Tampa Bay's version of Rodgers and Hammerstein, writer Matthew McGee and composer-lyricist Michael Ursua, has done it again.
The two have taken the Show Palace Dinner Theatre's recurring Christmas show storyline of a slightly tarnished angel earning its wings by doing a good deed back on Earth and created A Show Palace Christmas: Holiday Hotel, an all-new show (including three new Ursua songs) that's as good as — perhaps even better — than the terrific shows they've done recently.
This time the angel wannabe is the delightfully wicked Dame Madge Cricket (McGee in full dress or dresses, as the case may be), a transparent take on England's outrageous Dame Edna, is being sent back to Earth by Sophie the Angel (Megan Wheeler) to save the struggling Queen's Legs Hotel from rapacious bankers and lawyers.
Director McGee fills set designer Tom Hansen's sumptuously appointed stage with just the right number of traditional Christmas songs and choreographer Ben Simpson's dances to create the holiday spirit, adds enough story to keep the action going, and tops it all off with a barrage of Broadway references to delight devotees of the Great White Way — sight gags, topical jokes and ad-libs to make it the fastest two and a half hours ever.
My personal favorites were the signature lines from at least 10 Broadway and Hollywood classics that fit the moment to perfection:
Dame Madge's observation that hell "smells like the worst pies in London" (Sweeney Todd) to her exclamation, "I'm your Auntie Madge" (Mame) and her Mommie Dearest admonition, "No wire hangers," to a quick bow to Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard's pre-audition "window shade" bit from Waiting for Guffman, my all-time favorite movie, to name just a few.
Ursua is a wonder of talent, playing his own songs on piano, singing with a voice as pitch-perfect and smooth as Bing Crosby — his O Holy Night is a heart-stopper — and doing comedy bits and dance steps with the best of 'em.
Several Show Palace regulars and newcomers get a chance to shine, notably the ever-dependable Rick Kistner as the dastardly banker/lawyer Ernest Pecksniff belting a smarmy My Way; honey-voiced Alex Covington as the lovely Emma; Casey Shea and Kelly Cusimano as the singing-dancing hula girls Polly and Molly; eye-magnets Megan Sell and Alyssa Elrod as the tiny elves Grommet and Swatch; and Robert Micheli as the likeable hotel heir, Hamish.
Take special notice of the big finale, Shine, an Ursua original that deserves to become a standard.