East Penn Press

Monday, December 11, 2017
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY THE PINES DINNER THEATREFrom left, Daniel Pippert (Walter), Meg Stefanowicz (Jane) and Amanda Kipilia (Emma), ”Over the River and Through the Woods,” through Dec. 23, The Pines Dinner Theatre, Allentown. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY THE PINES DINNER THEATREFrom left, Daniel Pippert (Walter), Meg Stefanowicz (Jane) and Amanda Kipilia (Emma), ”Over the River and Through the Woods,” through Dec. 23, The Pines Dinner Theatre, Allentown.

Theater Review:

Friday, November 24, 2017 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

‘Over the River’ to The Pines for Christmas musical cheer

The Pines Dinner Theatre has kicked off the Christmas season theatrical schedule with “Over the River and Through the Woods,” an original musical full of spirited songs, some good humor and lots of schmaltz. Performances continue through Dec. 23.

The show, written by Oliver Blatt, who also is co-producer with Stacey Yoder, features music and lyrics that are a collaborative effort between Blatt and Stacy Bechtel. The seven new songs, including “Home is Where the Heart Is” and “Christmas is Coming,” are interspersed with traditional Christmas carols, such as ”Oh Christmas Tree” and “Joy to the World.”

The plot is set on Christmas Eve in a cabin in the woods in upstate New York where two grandparents anxiously await the arrival of their offspring and her family. The grandparents and the local meteorologist on the radio also are anticipating the arrival of two feet or more of snow.

There’s an interesting twist to this otherwise familiar theme when something totally unexpected arrives instead. That “something” is a bickering married couple and their sassy young daughter, all of whom have gotten lost on their way to their destination, and now are stranded because their car ran out of gasoline.

Meg Stefanowicz gives a strong performance as Jane, the high-strung, officious, argumentative young wife. At the Nov. 10 performance, on which this review is based, her rousing soliloquy, “Christmas is Coming,” was priceless. She enumerates all the well-known stresses of the holiday, and bemoans, “Nothing is going as planned. I can barely function. I am such a wreck. Why does Christmas always wring my neck?”

The other actors in the five-member ensemble are aptly-cast, and fit their characters well. Jane’s Scrooge-like husband Walter (Daniel Pippert) provides a non-holiday subplot as the cell-phone dependent modern who gets hysterical when he discovers he doesn’t have “service” to call AAA. He doesn’t recognize the land-line telephone hanging on the wall, and needs help dialing.

Throughout the script, there are humorous references to differences between modern living and traditions of the “older generation,” as in a plastic Christmas tree in a box versus a real-life Christmas tree growing in the woods.

Walter falls short of uttering “Bah humbug,” but it is clear he hates Christmas, and no one knows why. All is revealed in the second act, and though the reason is a bit predictable, Walter’s explanation and last-minute conversion plays well.

There’s a nice touch when the visitors share their gold-foil wrapped gifts with the grandparents, who reciprocate with newspaper-wrapped presents befitting their motto that “We’ve learned to live with just what we need.”

Despite the good cheer and some heart-warming moments, there are few flaws in the script. The opening scene with the grandparents alone in the cabin is long, taking too much time to get to the essence of the plot. The act one ending also is weak.

All is redeemed in the second act, however, with such scenes as the duet of carols sung outdoors under the “stars” with Blatt’s dramatic lighting design.

Blatt’s set designs for the cabin interior and outside barn are also effective at setting a wintry mood outdoors and capturing the cozy warmth of a wood stove indoors.

Tickets: Pines Dinner Theatre Box Office, 448 N. 17th St., Allentown; 610-433-2333