A Homey Revival In Time For The Holidays

By John Quinn

Given our propensity for cramming everything in sight into our plastic-lined pockets for "later," theater critics are rarely invited to buffets. So it was a special occasion to catch dinner and a show at The Dio - Dining & Entertainment in the town of Pinckney, a welcoming glow in a cold, dark Livingston County night. Special too was the show - a revival of the company's original Yuletide musical, "Home for the Holidays," which was conceived and written by Dio owners Steve DeBruyne and Matthew G. Tomich.

It would appear that the creative team took inspiration from the back stage dramas portrayed in films from the '40s and '50s. The setting is a seasonal musical revue where the only things merry and bright are Sharon Urick's and Marilee Dechart's knockout costumes. The principals, Christopher (Steve DeBruyne) and Portia (Sonja Marquis), are in "bah, humbug" moods. Portia's mid-show decision not to go on leaves an "All About Eve" opportunity for her scheming understudy (Elizabeth Jaffe). It seems that both Christopher and Portia are out of sorts for the same reason; each is dealing with the heartache of a missing loved one this Christmas. Can calm, cool stage manager Nick (Jim Moll), assisted by his empathetic wife (Anne Bauman), keep this crumbling cast together? Those of us with experience know stage managers can work magic!

DeBruyne pulls off a rare hat trick by successfully co-writing, directing and appearing in "Home for the Holidays." Add a co-credit to the list, with Matthew Tomich, for the complex, multi-leveled set and one gets the impression that he's a jack of all trades, master of all. His clear tenor is a fine match with the ethereal sopranos of Sonja Marquis and Sarah Brown, who plays Jean, one third of the Franklin Sisters singing act. But the whole cast has astounding vocal talents.

In classic musical tradition, the comic relief can be played with gusto. Three performers, returning this season in the roles they created, go all out for laughs. Elizabeth Jaffe, as understudy Belinda Doyle, is a classic comic foil, a wanna-be star whose talent doesn't match her ego. Also of note, because of her unforgettable, cackling laughter, is Mary Jo Del Vero. Last but not least is Jared Schneider, a big-voiced tenor of unusual range who, as Jimmy, makes lemonade out of his chronic leg twitch by turning "Here Comes Santa Claus" into a no-holds-barred tap routine.

Oh, yes, a note about the music. The songs are well-chosen pieces of the seasonal repertoire, ranging from what is arguably the most poignant of the genre, Gannon and Kent's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," beautifully sung here by Josh White, to songs popularized by Eartha Kitt, Bette Midler and, yes, even the Muppets.

Music director Brian E. Buckner is credited with the orchestrations, which are outstanding. Conducting from the keyboard, he, bassist Leer Sobie and percussionist Jonathan Smith provide a rich, balanced sound from their perch at the very top of the set. Whether it was serendipity or calculation, the combo's placement make for a reverberation-free performance that never drowned out the unamplified singers. It's a neat trick; the barrel vault ceiling at the Dio tosses echoes from the main stage like Frisbees. Let's assume that Buckner is also responsible for the top-notch vocal arrangements. We already know he's responsible for bringing out the very best in his talented cast.

For those of us in the Metro core, Pinckney may seem like an "over the river and through the woods" drive. But there's a lot of high quality, original productions that spring up in unlikely places, and "Home for the Holidays" is a sincere treat. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get Chef Jarod's tasty country fried chicken out of my coat before the cat finds it.


'Home for the Holidays'

The Dio - Dining and Entertainment, 135 E. Main St., Pinckney. 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21 & 23 and 12:30 p.m. Dec. 1, 8, 11, 15 & 22. 2 hours, 5 minutes. $32-39; includes dinner, non-alcoholic beverage, dessert & show. 517-672-6009. http://www.diotheatre.com

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