Dallas — Dallas Summer Musicals has double the fun for the holiday season. After a short run of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in November, DSM presents a different kind of holiday show with Broadway Christmas Wonderland at the Music Hall at Fair Park, produced by David King of Dublin Worldwide Productions and under the artistic direction of Emma Rogers. Promising glittering costumes, a dazzling cast, and the highest-kicking chorus girls this side of the North Pole, the show includes 24 dancers and singers, plus two world champion ice skaters.
No storyline to follow here, just waves of Christmas favorites, a staggering amount of choreography, and too many costumes changes to count on the dozens of fluttering jazz hands. The show opens with a gleaming snow scene and a jazzy “Let It Snow.” The artists then take us on a journey through Santa’s workshop, a festive city scene, a quaint street corner, a quiet mountain resort, and finish in a great hall decorated for a sophisticated holiday party.
Numerous high points in the show don’t cover up a few glaring issues. First, the live orchestra is once again absent, a factor wistfully commented on by longtime DSM patrons around me. Sound issues frequently pop up, especially the noticeable and overpowering bass increase in the second act and harsh microphone levels at times.
Second, it seems to be DSM’s trend now to favor non-Equity shows this year (even though we’re technically in a new season), and this one follows suit.
Lastly, the program information (provided by the tour, not DSM) is completely unhelpful. The disclaimer at the bottom of the page reads “Content subject to change,” and the tour takes that a bit too far. Many songs in the first act aren’t even listed, and half of what is printed is either missing or out of order. This also means that many of the advertising photos patrons may have seen don’t actually represent what’s in the show.
Despite the above, the show’s spectacular visuals, vibrant performances, and impressive execution in many areas uplift the evening. In an effort to blast holiday cheer, many seasonal shows overdo it on the set, but designers Dave Webb and Chris Penn create pleasing pictures and content-appropriate scenes that range from vividly kid-friendly to softly nostalgic to a Vegas-style brilliance. Costumes by Jonelle DeBlanc and Nicole Estes perfectly match each sequence, seamlessly integrating with the sets, music, and dancing.
Six singers deliver a delicious balance between a harmonious ensemble and individual personalities. Laura Mansell boasts a strong presence, while Kate Somerset How exudes a confident yet coy sensuality. Simon Schofield proves his dancing skills are as sensational as his early-era rock ’n’ roll pipes, and Alfred Jackson shines with a classic Broadway voice. Matthew Jeans and Dwanna Orange put a ton of heart and a lot of soul into every one of their solos, bringing down the house each time.
Between the singing and dancing comes two impressive ice-skating segments featuring former Canadian competitive skaters Sean Rice and Jodeyne Higgins. Smooth maneuvers and exciting lifts, albeit a little hesitant at times, make it one of the highlights of the show.
With so many songs and no narrative, it’s a brutally demanding show, not only vocally, but physically. As much as the singers and skaters rocked it, the hardest-working performers have to be the dancers. A plethora of jazz and tap styles fill the evening, plus an exciting Russian folk variation and a scarily fast body percussion section. From the moment the curtain goes up, they emanate an infectious, high-octane energy that never once drops, even when timing and memory issues pop up.
Partnered jives, classical Broadway jazz, and even a Fosse-inspired, Pippin- and Sweet Charity-style sequence play out on stage. And what kind of a Christmas show would this be without tap dancing? (Seriously, most classic Christmas songs are perfect tap numbers.) The hoofing ensemble stays on point with military precision. Oh, and they sing, as well.
The downside to the monumental amount of costume changes and dance numbers is the potential for mishaps, and the juxtaposition and pacing allow for too many slip-ups, such as missing costume pieces, a not-quite-so-uniform look in many places, and a frantic feel that results in a fuzzy picture during certain moments. Also, as fantastic as they are, the promise of a high-kick line is overstated.
When all the good, bad, and in-between elements of the production come to be weighed, the end result is a production seems to be almost there. The downsides of the show create a slight air of lesser professionalism and a faint feeling of disorganized haste. Luckily, the performers rise above and deliver a delightfully upbeat, toe-tapping evening of singing, dancing, and holiday cheer.