News Column

Owen and Shearer bring Holiday Sing-Along to World Cafe Live

December 6, 2013

YellowBrix

Dec. 06--When Welsh singer Judith Owen moved to Los Angeles with her husband, comic actor and radio host Harry Shearer, in the 1990s, she found she wasn't so fond of sunny southern California during the holiday season.

"I was feeling quite depressed because it all looked so lovely and I couldn't actually cope with Christmas in a hot, beautiful place," Owen says. She and Shearer are on a transatlantic conversation on her iPad from their home in London. "It made me feel terrible, and yearn to be somewhere that's dark and miserable. You don't want to be seen eating a turkey when it's 80 degrees at Christmastime."

The solution for Owen and Shearer was to host a holiday party of their own.

That tradition started with the musical couple inviting people over to their Santa Monica home to sing Christmas songs around the piano. In 2005, the duo, who keep a third residence in New Orleans, took the show public as a fund-raiser to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina. This year, they're playing a series of U.S. dates, including the World Cafe Live this Sunday, with guests including Mutlu, Wesley Stace, Lily Mae, Dona Oxford, and Kenn Kweder. Proceeds go to the American Red Cross Philippine relief fund.

Shearer, who will perform Jill Sobule's "Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner" among other favorites at WCL, says the show "veers recklessly between reverence and irreverence." The same could be said for his career. When not voicing multiple characters on The Simpsons or hosting his syndicated program Le Show -- which airs Sundays at 4 on WHYY-FM (90.9) -- he has been known to play bassist Derek Smalls in a band called Spinal Tap. On Le Show, currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, he often uses satire as a polemical political weapon.

"Le Show is my way of making sure I'm still writing and coming up with new characters," he says. "It's my way of avoiding doing stand-up and having an audience without ever having to entertain drunks."

Shearer has a new series, called Nixon's the One, which launches in the U.K. on Sky TV in January. He plays the 37th president (whom he also portrays in Le Show's "Nixon in Heaven" sketches), with scripts taken verbatim from tapes Nixon made.

"It's not about Watergate or Vietnam, but the crazy conversations that went on," Shearer says. "For a half an hour, you're trapped with him in the Oval Office."

The former child actor, who made his cinematic debut in the 1953 movie Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, has spent much of the year on stage in England, acting in Daytona, a straight play by Oliver Cotton. He says there's "loose talk" about something happening next year to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the This Is Spinal Tap movie. "The year opens up like a wonderful gift box," he says, slipping into the voice of The Simpsons' evil Mr. Burns. "And there's no telling what's inside."

Owen has a new album, Ebb & Flow, due out in April, and a charity single, a "White Christmas" duet with Julia Fordham, available on iTunes. The pianist also takes a comic turn on the Web series What's With Honey Poo Poo?, which she produced with Shearer.

"I can't think of two greater things in this world than comedy and music," Owen says. "Christmas is a bittersweet time of year. Everything has to be perfect. There's loneliness connected to it, and people who aren't here anymore. . . . But my greatest memories with my Welsh family are of singing carols around the piano. There's nothing like harmonizing together in this world. It's the best form of self-medication I've ever come across."

Judith Owen & Harry Shearer's Holiday Sing-Along plays at 8 p.m. Sunday at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St. Tickets: $30. Information: 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com.

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