Nov. 25--ORLEANS -- When you're ready to hear Christmas music this season, a good bet for a well-performed and eclectic mix -- from "O Holy Night" to "Believe" to "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" -- is the holiday show at the Academy Playhouse.
As a concert, this 90-minute revue is a heartfelt community effort that will bring back memories and favorites but also probably introduce you to songs you haven't discovered. A reliably talented singing roster of five Academy regulars and 9-year-old Alanna Hartsgrove ably deliver songs connected by the thread of (mostly) having been used on film or in a stage show and so qualify to be included in "Broadway to Hollywood Celebrates the Holidays."
As a piece of theater, though, the show pulled together by director/designer/performer Peter Earle is less successful. He introduces the program by explaining that a group of friends has been invited over for a holiday party and to rehearse a "concert" they'll be giving -- but then any semblance of a plot or even dialogue almost immediately ends.
Earle gamely addressed the audience a few times on Saturday's opening night as the music continued, but none of the other performers talked to the audience and only very occasionally, outside of a song, to each other that patrons could hear. And while they sometimes sat to listen on furniture set up in front of gorgeously decorated Christmas trees and the grand piano that Christopher Morris uses for his beautiful accompaniment, performers also frequently exited the stage, sometimes en masse. Which no one would do from someone's living room, right?
So the "party" idea either has to be stepped up several notches as the run continues, or the group should relax into simply presenting a holiday concert -- and this show would work absolutely fine that way. (Even, perhaps, with a solo for Morris because his performance is certainly a highlight.)
From the start of "We Need a Little Christmas" (from "Mame"), the program of 24 numbers has a mix of solos, duets and group numbers -- including a "Mele Kalikimaka" with Hawaiian shirts and hula movements, and a terrific "God Bless Us, Everyone" medley as an Act 1 finale. The choices are a combination of contemplative and upbeat tunes, pathos and comedy. (Season's Greetings, Elvis.)
Rebecca Banas contributes the jazziest, flirtiest style with "Christmas of Love" and "The Man with the Bag." She also offers some lovely duets on songs like "The First Noel" with Beau Jackett. He has the most powerful and soulful voice of the group, doing particularly nice work on "Thankful." He and cousin Alex Perry combine for a tender "Lead With Your Heart," but Perry also provides the lightest touch to the show, including with Elvis intonations for "Here Comes Santa Claus."
Alanna adds her voice to both one of my favorite Christmas songs and one of my most dreaded in quick succession, with a sweet and yearning "Where Are You, Christmas?" following her success by making "Hippopotamus" fun even for us non-fans of that song. (Who knew it was from the 1935 movie "Curly Top"?)
Earle shows his Bing Crosby side by adding a few choices from the movie "White Christmas," including a lively arrangement of "Snow" and his own reflective performance of "Count Your Blessings." He joins for a duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with Martha Whatley, who wraps up the performances by using her classically trained voice to full effect on "O Holy Night."
There's something here for pretty much every taste, even those who want to perform: The show ends with a sing-along, so you might want to brush up on the lyrics to "Winter Wonderland."
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