A final bow for Aspen’s Crystal Palace at the Wheeler Opera House | AspenTimes.com

A final bow for Aspen’s Crystal Palace at the Wheeler Opera House

Since the iconic Crystal Palace dinner theater closed in April 2008, after 51 years of satire and show tunes, its devoted performers have carried on the tradition. As the Crystal Palace Revue, they've performed semi-annually on Christmas at the Wheeler Opera House.

And though Aspen audiences didn't have to completely say goodbye to the local entertainment institution when the theater closed and founder Meade Metcalf sold the building, Thursday's two performances might really be the Crystal Palace's final bow.

"We're saying 'Yes, it's the last time,'" said cast member Nina Gabianelli, who performed at the Palace and served as its general manager from 2002 to 2008. "It's so difficult for us to put together now, with people's lives and other projects going on. It's hard to do it for just this one show a year."

At the Palace building on Hyman Avenue — which has stood empty since the cabaret left it — succeeding generations of ski town performers poked fun at presidents from the Eisenhower administration to the tenure of George W. Bush and entertained President Jimmy Carter in person on multiple occasions. They parodied political and pop culture movements from the John Birch Society to '90s boy bands, with Metcalf singing and playing piano all the while.

Metcalfe, who has split his time between Aspen and Crested Butte since 2008, won't be in town for what may be his creation's grand finale.

Thursday's shows will be performed by nine cast members, including veterans such as Gabianelli, Kathy Pelowski, husband-and-wife pair Gary and Meredith Daniel, and pianist David Dyer.

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"It's still very much a family to us," Gabianelli said.

A number of Palace vets moved to the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue when the dinner theater closed, and that downvalley troupe has allowed them to continue performing together. But piecing together a show in the Palace style is still quite an undertaking.

"It's a lot of work but when we're done with the final product, it's a blast," Gabianelli said.

Tonight's revue includes Christmas carols and many of the favorites from the old Palace — including "Middle-Aged Boy Band" — along with new material from Laffing Matterz in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a dinner theater that the Palace's Travis Lane McDiffett founded after the Palace closed. New numbers include a barbershop quartet spoof, along with social and political satire in the Palace tradition and a song called "Doctor's Orders," in which a physician offers dream advice for donut and onion-ring lovers.

"It's a little more family-friendly than it had been at the Palace," Gabianelli said. "It's geared toward anyone that can handle satire."

The Christmas shows have often sold out in years past, somewhat to the cast's surprise, drawing its devotees from the old Palace days and newcomers alike.

"The idea that people miss the Crystal Palace, still, is amazing to me," Gabianelli said.

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If You Go …

What: The Crystal Palace Revue

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Thursday, Dec. 25, 5:30 & 8:30 p.m.

Cost: $20, $25 and $50

Tickets: Wheeler box office, http://www.aspenshowtix.com

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