Central Indiana is fortunate to have its share of holiday performing arts traditions which I’ve had the great pleasure of covering over the years. They include the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “Yuletide Celebration,” Indianapolis Symphonic Choir’s “Festival of Carols,” Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol,” and the Phoenix Theatre’s “A Very Phoenix Xmas.”
Add to that list “A Beef & Boards Christmas” which is celebrating its silver anniversary. The show opened Friday and runs through December 23 at the revered dinner theatre on Indy’s far northside. I hate to report, however, that this beloved show will not return in 2018. According to theatre management, it is going on hiatus, but may return in a future season. In its place next season, Beef & Boards will present “Elf, The Musical.” In an effort to attract more families, the theatre hopes to present other seasonal productions as well.
It’s not certain if this Christmas show will return or not, so if you want to see it before it ends its milestone run, I highly recommend you see this edition, which I saw on Sunday, because it is one of the best I have reviewed throughout the years. As in previous years, the variety show includes 35 holiday-themed songs and Christmas carols which might be considered overkill, but director and choreographer Ron Morgan has made sure the show is snappy and fast-paced without any lulls.
The cast consisted of triple-threat performers, as well as the affable host Kenny Shepard who has performed in that role since the show’s second year. He was joined by Marisa Rivera, who made a splash as Anita in B & B’s production of “West Side Story,” along with many faces familiar to Beef & Boards’ audiences such as Kyle Durbin, Betsy Norton and Peter Scharbrough.
Making his Christmas show debut was ensemble member Ian Black. Blessed with superb tap dancing skills and appealing stage presence, he shined.
Standing out for her formidable vocal skills and naturalness was Renée Jackson, who made her debut as Oda Mae Brown in B & B’s recent “Ghost, The Musical.” Joined by the ensemble, Jackson’s powerhouse rendition of “O Holy Night” was exquisite and a show highlight.
In a gesture of extending holiday wishes to his patrons, Beef & Boards co-founder and owner Doug Stark played Santa Claus in a performance that was impeccably charming.
Adding to the show’s Las Vegas-style production elements are Michael Layton’s set design, Ryan Koharchik’s lighting design, Jill Kelly Howe’s glitzy costumes and Daniel Hesselbrock’s sound design. Technical director Bill Mollencupp did a fine job, despite the sound issues that were undoubtedly out of his control during the Sunday matinee I attended.
Lastly, and deserving of special praise, was the Beef & Boards orchestra under the musical direction of pianist Kristy Templet, who led a band of seven gifted musicians.
Reminiscent of television variety shows that were once ubiquitous on the air waves, the Beef & Boards Christmas show is indeed a treasure and one worth experiencing before it is replaced with more contemporary fare. Though a throwback, it still is worth seeing for its charm, the inspiration it offers, the goodwill it conveys, and of course, its pure entertainment value.
Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre is located at 9301 Michigan Rd., Indianapolis, 46268. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (317) 872-9664 between 10 a.m. & 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.on Mondays. Tickets range from $42.50 to $67.50 and include a dinner buffet, fruit & salad bar, and select beverages. For more information or show schedule, visit beefandboards.com.