by Linda Burlingame
Christmas Wonderland at the King’s Castle Theatre is a beautiful blend of beloved holiday music, with singing and dancing, charming Christmas sets, nimble elves, whimsical Christmas critters, colorful costumes, and well, it just makes you smile from beginning to end. The curtain rises to reveal a stage full of more than a dozen entertainers, singing and dancing. It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas — Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!
Familiar carols are enlivened by gift-wrapped dancers, penguins and a ragtime tune, Santa leading the “kick line.” (It’s tradition to applaud!) Santa’s elves do one of my favorite holiday tunes, Sleigh Ride, “It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!” And it seems Santa’s favorite is Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. I adore the “sit-down kick line,” reminiscent of that amazing choreography from Tommy Tune’s The Will Rogers Follies. Clapping hands, slapping knees — a remarkable feat of dexterity and coordination. And no one gets slapped! (I wonder what beginning rehearsals were like!)
Santa and the dancers do another all-time classic, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. (Recorded by Brenda Lee in 1958!) The show picks up the pace on many of the songs, giving them a fresh appeal. There’s an up-tempo version of Joy to the World and a rousing rendition of O Happy Day. A clever song that includes all 50 states will help Santa on his worldwide journey Christmas Eve, and if you listen closely and are quick enough, you can throw up your hand when you hear your state! Santa sings Elvis’ Blue Christmas and is accompanied by an orchestra section of elephants, penguins, mice, and bears — all having a rollicking good time!
The theater was originally the Bobby Vinton Theatre, beautifully designed. From the spacious lobby (and restrooms!) to wide aisles, comfortable seating, state-of-the-art sound and lighting, it is one of Branson’s finest. And I have to say, maybe the best popcorn. (Perhaps I should do a popcorn rating with my articles. You know, five kernels for the best, etc.!)
When a soldier sings I’ll Be Home for Christmas with an accompanying video of military homecomings, there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Before the show starts there is a poignant video of young people becoming aware of the gratitude they owe our veterans. I like the lovely production number for It’s a Marshmallow World, with dancing waiters and waitresses serving dinner to guests who are seated at a long dining table by a fireplace. The ballerina’s solo is perfection. And I really like the fantastic tap number! You don’t see tap dancing too often anymore; this reminds me of those marvelous Fred Astaire movies. The glamorous finale is reminiscent of those wonderful old films.