Audience Gobbles Up Turkeyville Musical Revue

By Bridgette M. Redman

The audience at Turkeyville knew exactly what it wanted and Top Hat productions at Cornwell's Dinner Theater knew how to deliver. And deliver they did.

They start with the perfect Thanksgiving meal - moist, succulent turkey; a savory sage stuffing; smooth whipped potatoes; a sweet yam and apple casserole; tender green beans; a delicious turkey, spinach and potato soup; homemade rolls with sweet cream butter, and a choice of desserts that include pumpkin pie, coconut cream pie and peppermint ice cream.

Then once all the happy hormones from the turkey settle in, the tables are cleared and the show begins. "Two Men and a Christmas Tree" is less of a play with a plot and more of a revue that strings Christmas songs together with well-drawn comic characters and situations designed to entertain and tickle laughter out of the audience.

If the show feels a bit like a formula designed very much for a Michigan dinner theater audience, it is a formula that is effective and is an audience pleaser. It's good, clean entertainment that engages the audience and is pulled off with a great deal of skill and humor.

"Two Men and a Christmas Tree" features four actors playing 12 people who work at or pass through a Michigan Christmas tree lot that is a family tradition passed down through the generations, much like the Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth or, indeed, Cornwell's Turkeyville itself. It's a family business that relies on everyone being in the holiday spirit all the time - even when they're not.

Brothers Hank and Jim are fighting over whether their job as Christmas tree salesmen is the way to spend their lives. Hank, played by Shawn Fletcher, bubbles over with Christmas enthusiasm, while Benjamin Jackson's Jim grumbles his way through the day.

But don't look for much realism or consistency in the plot, even when the two women show up who might change things for them. That's not the point of this show. The point is for the loosely put-together story to provide laughs and an excuse to sing some of the favorite songs of the season.

Holly Norton-McKeen and Jocelyn France play the six women in the cast, from one of Santa's elves (Acorn) to a pouty girl and her puppet Nancy to an overstressed businesswoman to a singing mom.

All four of the cast excel at moving in and out of their different characters, making broad choices for each one to the greatest comic effect. The first act features a family of Grandpa, Mom, brother and sister (Reed and Diana) all dressed alike as they prepare to sing that night at church. Their rendition of "Go Tell It On the Mountain" is a great arrangement that shows off their skills nearly as well as "Carol of the Bells" does earlier in the show.

The best and worst moments in the show come with this over-the-top family. The fighting of the brother and sister is as amusing as the dance moves of the grandpa who goes from using a walker to doing cartwheels. However, it felt forced when, after the children are pushed to share what they want for Christmas and sing their respective songs about wanting a dinosaur and hippo, they are shamed for being selfish and thinking only about themselves. There could have been a less harsh transition into the song "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot."

Norton-McKeen shows great charisma as she interacts with the audience in the second half, breaking the fourth wall for some audience interaction as she checks Santa's naughty and nice list and then sings to members of the audience. France's three characters are all as different as can be, and she underlines this by displaying different energy levels for each one.

Both Jackson and Fletcher have their adorable moments as the brothers, especially as they interact with the two friends Jane and Beth. They are both down-to-earth, good-hearted souls even when they argue or question their lives. Jackson's version of "Santa Baby" is one of the more fun ways that song has ever been interpreted and provides a fun transition to the closing number - "The Christmas Can-Can."

"Two Men and a Christmas Tree" is designed to be a fun holiday romp with moments of warmth and love, much like Christmas itself. While it will never be a Christmas classic, it is a wonderful way to spend a few hours getting in the Christmas spirit.

REVIEW:

'Two Men and a Christmas Tree'

Cornwell's Dinner Theatre, 18935 15 1/2 Mile Rd., Marshall. Monday-Saturday through Dec. 21. 1 hour, 41 minutes (not including dinner). $40 with turkey dinner; $35 show-only.269-781-4293. http://www.turkeyville.com

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