Encore Michigan

‘Christmas Survival Guide’ at Dio sports stellar cast and voices

Review November 22, 2021 David Kiley

PINCKNEY, MI – ‘Tis the season for holiday shows. And if you want a change from the various versions of Scrooge and that classic story’s spinoffs, certainly give A Christmas Survival Guide at The Dio Dining & Entertainment Theatre a whirl.

This kind of show can be deadly in the wrong hands. But in the hands of Director Steve DeBruyne and Assistant Director Amy Schumacher, and a masterfully chosen cast, it is as welcome a treat after our long COVID induced theatre coma as Santa himself and a turkey dinner with loved ones.

The title is pretty much the extent of a pretty thin book, by James Hindman & Ray Roderick, to this music presentation. Indeed, think of “Survival Guide” as a Christmas juke-box musical. There is a self-help book out for sale, and each of the five cast members take turns reading some of the advice and bromides (read by Jon King and run through the theatre sound system), with each quotation leading to a comedy or sentimental sketch with music and a bit of dancing in some cases.

The strength of the show is in the players, who slay the Christmas tunes and have a lovely chemistry. Rachael Cupples is a delight every time she is on stage, delivering everything from a sexy and saucy “Surabaya Santa” and “I’d Like To Hitch A Ride With Santa Claus” to a more heartfelt “Little Girl Blue.” When she belts, she is as clear and resonant as a church bell on Christmas Eve. Sarah Brown leans into the more sentimental and sweet songs and sketches as with her “Christmas Eve,” and “This Will be The Best Christmas Ever”  duet with Steve DeBruyne, and shows her comedy chops with “The Twelve Steps of Christmas.” Angela Hench has great comedic timing and a beautiful voice to match and is hilarious playing a child, which she does on her knees with pants and shoes that make her appear three-and-a-half feet tall. Perry Devon Quarker Jr., making his Dio debut fits right in with this excellent troupe, demonstrating solid vocals and some very good timing in numbers like “An Old Fashioned Sleigh Ride,” and in doing a turn as a Christmas Elvis.

The individual song numbers are nicely balanced with Christmas medleys like “ A TV Christmas Medley” from Brown, DeBruyne and Cupples (Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Feliz Navidad, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, and more), as well as a sacred medley (Away in a Manger, Some Children See Him, and Amazing Grace). In short, Survival Guide checks all the boxes you could want, and does so with some of the very best voices in Michigan and without getting too sappy or schmaltzy.

Casy Baker does a fine job of leading as Music Director, handling the arrangements by John Glaudini, and has a good onstage presence as he is involved in a few of the sketches. The band is on stage, which was an excellent choice by DeBruyne and Technical Director Matt Tomich. Indeed, Tomich’s set is not only a perfect frame for this lovely musical Christmas card, but he once again shows that his execution and skills as a craftsman have few equal peers in Michigan. Norma Polk’s costume design and Eileen Obradavich prop designs do very well to support all the different vignettes and costume changes, and the two’s efforts create good separation among the sketches.

The Dio has done away with the buffet it employed before COVID, and now has a dinner of it’s “signature” fried chicken, red-skinned potatoes and green beans, plus salad, breadsticks and dessert delivered to tables by the cast, who double as servers.

Between the great fun happening on stage and the chicken (and you can bring your own wine), you can’t do much better for a holiday season date night…or Sunday matinee.

For ticket information and sales, go to The Dio’s website. Masks are required during the performance, but obviously not while eating. Management explains that it must do all it can to minimize the chance of spreading COVID, not only among patrons, but the cast. The cast mingles in the seating area as servers, and if one of the cast-members tests positive for COVID during the run, they will have to suspend performances, which would be a huge financial hit to the theatre.

Week of 11/29/2021

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