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BWW Review: 'Merry Christmas!' from Chaffin's Barn

BWW Review: 'Merry Christmas!' from Chaffin's Barn

Recently, while reminiscing over some rare roast beef and steaming mashed potatoes just prior to the opening curtain of Glad Tidings - the 2016 holiday treat now being served up at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre in Nashville - I was asked by a companion about my very first time visiting the venerable venue that for the past half-century has been delighting audiences with substantive and filling fare while treating them to hijinks, both theatrical and otherwise.

My mind racing, I instantly ruffled through the memories of all the years spent enjoying and reviewing shows at "The Barn," while mentally seeing plates laden with delicious food pile up around me, and I answered, rather matter-of-factly, truth be told: "For the past 37 years..." Which seems odd, since I am only 36 years old.

In fact, though, my first visit to The Barn was in 1979, when a group of college friends and I came up from Murfreesboro for a Sunday matinee that ensured we would be making subsequent trips for years to come. But who would have ever thunk that 37 years later, I'd still be starting off my holiday season with a show out on Highway 100.

But that's exactly where I've been - most years, at least - and I look over the ever-burgeoning list of shows I've reviewed since college, I'm virtually gobsmacked by the sheer volume of productions I've seen at Chaffin's Barn, the venue and its environs and, perhaps most importantly, the scores of artists who have become like family to me, figuring so prominently in both my professional and personal lives. To be quite honest, it's not really Christmastime until I've seen the latest celebration of the season at one of Nashville's most enduring professional theaters.

It doesn't much matter what the show is - over the years, the titles have ranged from holly-gilded dinner theater farce, seasonal favorites that every company seems to mount at this time of year, or original scripts written by John Chaffin himself or any of the talented actors-turned-writers who, at one time or another, have trod the boards of the magical floating stage - it's more the point that you are in that audience, sated by a groaning board of Southern delicacies and surrounded by hundreds of kindred spirits reveling in the joie de vivre of this particular time of year and alternately being tickled, titillated and entertained by what transpires onstage.

In fact, perhaps my most famous - and reviled - review was of a Chaffin's Barn Christmas show: Jack Sharkey's Sorry, Wrong Chimney! What I wrote is still uttered to me by charming actors from time-to time..."Sorry. Wrong!" And that was it! On a starkly white (or off-white) page of newsprint, there was the headline and the two-word review in which I released my inner Dorothy Parker and made people in our theater community enjoy a really good laugh (not unlike I suspect Santa, himself, gave the notice). But even while I thought the script inane and ridiculous, I still had nothing but respect for the actors onstage and for the lovely people hosting me that night for a respite from the real world.

And so it goes... While there are always rumors of closings and real estate transactions happening willy-nilly, Chaffin's Barn continues to thrive and to entertain and to give both audiences and theater folk an opportunity to get to know one another better and to be transported and transformed via the magic of live theater. I hope that Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre remains a vital part of Music City long after I've been reassigned to review shows in the afterlife.

Until then, I'm delighted to call Chaffin's Barn one of my enduring theatrical homes, a place I love to come to in order to feel welcome and a part of my theater family, thanks in large part to the always gracious and generous treatment of Janie Chaffin (whose seasonal decorating talents are unparalleled) and John Chaffin, who are simply two of the best people to ever walk the earth - any time of year.

BWW Review: 'Merry Christmas!' from Chaffin's BarnThis year's holiday offering of Glad Tidings, written by my favorites Martha Wilkinson and Bobby Wyckoff, is directed by another of my faves, the lovely and talented Lydia Bushfield, who has assembled a crackerjack team of Christmas elves cum performers to breathe vitality into a somewhat dated script that harkens back to the once-common seasonal variety show, replete with tunes and comedy sketches. One, a tragic take on O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi, is particularly and wickedly funny (thanks, in large part, to the talents of Jenny Wallace and Daniel Bissell) and elicited a thundering guffaw from me to show my appreciation. Others, including an airport waiting area of strangers caught up in the holiday spirit and another in which a typical American family battles road rage and contemporary malaise to make a trip to Grandmother's house, help to create a climate of holiday comfort and joy - sentiments that we are sorely in need of amid these trying times in which we live.

In addition to the aforementioned Wallace (who has never looked lovelier onstage) and Bissell (who seems to be getting younger rather than the reverse), Bushfield's talented ensemble (who may be counted among my coterie of "favorites," all looking swellegant in Joy Tilley-Perryman's eye-popping costumes and Jamie Lyn Scott's gorgeous wiggery) includes Christen Heilman, Everett Tarlton (the two of whom amp up the show's dance cred), Jenny Norris Light - all Barn veterans - with Joy Todd, Brian Best and Alex Pineiro making their Chaffin's Barn debuts in Glad Tidings.

Musical director Tim Fudge deserves kudos for his expert work on the show, which ensures a tuneful experience, and to John Todd, Bobby King and Dan Kozlowski, the three men who bring the show to life musically with verve and enthusiasm.

  1. Glad Tidings. By Martha Wilkinson and Bobby Wyckoff. Directed by Lydia Bushfield. Musical direction by Timothy O. Fudge. Choreographed by Everett Tarlton. Produced by Janie and John Chaffin. At Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, Nashville. Through December 30. For reservations, call (615) 646-9977. Running time: 2 hours (with one 20-minute intermission).

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From This Author Jeffrey Ellis