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By Jenn McKee
The Christmas season may just be officially getting underway, but it’s already bustin’ out all over at The Dio in Pinckney, which is staging, for the third straight year, the company’s original musical, “Home for the Holidays.”
Written by Dio co-founders Steve DeBruyne and Matthew Tomich, the show – which packs in an array of traditional, pop/rock, and obscure Christmas tunes – offers glimpses, both on-stage and backstage, of a live music show that’s de-railing on Christmas Eve.
The leading lady, Portia (Thalia Schramm), locks herself into her dressing room, devastated by the news that her serviceman husband Eric (Peter Crist) can’t come home for Christmas; Jimmy (Jared Schneider) is suddenly suffering from a nervous tic he can’t overcome; Portia’s understudy Belinda (Elizabeth Jaffe) is dying to step in, but she’s not quite up to the task; and leading man Christopher (DeBruyne) is brimming with bitterness instead of Christmas cheer.
Meanwhile, one member of a sister trio – Jean, played by Sarah Brown – pines for Christopher, while the married stage manager (Jim Moll) and costume designer (Anne Bauman) try to pull the strings back-stage and make it all work out.
It’s fitting that two of the show’s numbers – the opener, “Snow,” and “Sisters” – are drawn from the classic movie “White Christmas,” given the winking tone and on-and-off-stage orientation of both narratives.
And it’s fun to note the broad range of DeBruyne and Tomich’s song choices, which aren’t typical, and heavily favor contemporary pop culture. For example: “One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas,” and “It Feels Like Christmas” from “The Muppet Christmas Carol”; Kenny Rogers’ and Dolly Parton’s “Christmas Without You,” “I’ll Be Home with Bells On,” and “I Believe in Santa Claus”; “Believe” from “The Polar Express”; George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s “Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus”; Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas,” from the live-action movie “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”; and “All I Want for Christmas is You,” by Mariah Carey.
Generally, though, the two hour show feels over-stuffed with numbers – though they each fit well within the confines of the story, “Home” starts to feel bloated in the second act – and not all vocalists on the Dio stage are created equal. Still, terrific, polished lead vocalists like Schramm and DeBruyne go a long way, so not surprisingly, the songs that prominently feature them are among the strongest. Schneider and Brown also deliver the vocal goods in featured roles; and Jaffe, once freed of the need to be the weak second fiddle to Portia, gets to shine brightest in “Hard Candy Christmas.”
Tomich designed the show’s tri-level set, which consists of the stage area; stairs to Portia’s dressing room; and a few more stairs leading to (what are marked as) additional dressing rooms. Eileen Obradovich provided the show’s props. Norma Polk designed the spot-on Christmas show costumes, while Tomich designed the sound and the lighting, which help establish shifts in scene and tone (and, in one instance, a sense of magic). Michelle Marzejon’s choreography has hints of Christmas TV specials while also being fun to watch; and Beth Wondolowski directs the three-piece orchestra, which, despite a couple of rough spots on opening night, generally struck a good and consistent balance with the performers.
Finally, The Dio is a dinner theater, and it’s one of the best-integrated ones I’ve yet visited. By that I mean, while I’ve been to theaters that have tried to serve food to patrons, and I’ve been to restaurants that have tried to play host to live theater, this was the first time I felt as though the venue was dedicated to both equally. With a buffet dinner before the show – the boneless fried chicken is a favorite for a reason, people – The Dio also has its performers serve drinks to patrons at this time; and during intermission, the performers distribute dessert and interact with the crowd. In this way, too, the two worlds of “restaurant” and “theater company” are collapsed at The Dio, and consequently, they seem more intimately enmeshed than in most dinner theaters.
So maybe if you need a lot of Christmas (and chicken), right this very minute, a trip to The Dio might be just what the doctor ordered.
‘Home for the Holidays’
The Dio – Dining and Entertainment
135 E. Main St., Pinckney
Seating 12:30 to 1 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18
Seating 6:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, 12, 19
Seating 6:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, Dec. 6, 13, 20
Seating 12:30 to 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 30, Dec. 7, 14, 21
Seating 6:30 to 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 22
Seating 6:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23