Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas on Broadway @ Broadway Rose

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured from left is Joshua Stenseth, Rebecca Teran, Amy Jo Halliday, and Norman Wilson


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving – some may call it “Black Friday,” but Broadway Rose managed to dispel the darkness with a shiny new entry into the world of holiday theatrical offerings. The opening night of “Christmas on Broadway” was a high-spirited, high-energy tribute to every cliché about the holiday season, and it worked like elves on Christmas Eve.

Director/creator Rick Lewis succeeds in amalgamating Christmas traditions old and new into an original and witty, “let’s do the show here!” musical that is alternatively charming, wry, warm, and sarcastic – and consistently entertaining. The five principals (four Broadway wannabes and the theater’s crusty tour guide) waste no time worrying about the story’s plausibility as they rush headlong into two breathtaking hours of song and dance celebrating much-beloved Christmas traditions.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Picture from left is Rebecca Teran, Norman Wilson, and Amanda Valley
Amanda Valley is much more than a tour guide for a group of performers stranded in an empty Broadway theater (well, empty except for a conveniently placed band and a full house of enthusiastic Broadway Rose patrons).  A little bit Marlene Dietrich, a little bit Louis Armstrong (“’Zat You, Santa Claus?”), and a lot more talent than inhibition – she is a delightful comedienne and accomplished singer who dives head first into her memorable performance.

The four hopeful ingénues (playing themselves) are Amy Jo Halliday, Joshua Stenseth, Rebecca Teran, and Norman Wilson. This powerhouse quartet delivers some of the best vocals we have seen this year; many of the songs are ensemble numbers, and the harmonies are superb. Happily, each is also given individual spots in which to shine. Rebecca Teran had blown us away as “Little Shop’s” Audrey, and she brings the same level to such numbers as “The Christmas Blues” and “Never Fall In Love With An Elf” – imagine Fanny Brice, only much, much cuter.  Amy Jo Halliday switches fluidly from opera to farce in numbers like “I Want Eddie Fisher For Christmas” and “The Pretty Little Dolly,” and she is stunning in “Phantom of the Nutcracker Express,” a hilarious send-up of all things Lloyd Webber.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured from left is Amy Jo Halliday and Rebecca Teran
Despite stiff competition from the distaff side, the men in the show manage to carry their own weight quite nicely. Joshua Stenseth, effective throughout, really sparkles in “Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa” -  though his attempts to draw the audience into a sing-along are frustrated by the song’s impossibly convoluted lyrics, he keeps the crowd laughing at this uber-multi-cultural parody. Broadway Rose audiences are all familiar with Norman Wilson, who has graced the New Stage with multiple star turns in recent years. He has a marvelous voice, and his Frankie Valliesque falsetto in “White Christmas” takes the Berlin classic to new heights (pun intended).
The addition of eight pajama-clad little girls and one amazing high-school baritone (Ben Newton) lends a poignant note to an otherwise lighthearted evening. The little girls’ charming “Christmas Alphabet” number, followed by Newton’s beautiful rendition of “Believe,” provide a welcome break in the madcap pacing of the show.

The second song in the show, “It’s Better With A Band,” is something of an understatement, at least with respect to this production. Highest praise is due to Musical Director/Conductor/Pianist Jeffrey Childs, bassist Sean Vinson and drummer Ben Wasson, who provide a full and rich musical accompaniment with only three instruments, yet never overwhelm the vocalists.
Nowhere is the show wittier than in the set design and props. The deceptive simplicity of descending snowflakes and Christmas trees (along with a truly marvelous hat-cum-Maypole) both augment and underscore some of the show’s best moments.

Broadway Rose’s reputation is built on excellence in musical theater, and “Christmas on Broadway” provides a wonderful continuation of the company’s proud tradition, and the four-week run of the show provides ample opportunity for audiences to enjoy the production.

“Christmas on Broadway” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater in Tigard through December 23. www.broadwayrose.org
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured from left is Norman Wilson, Amy Jo Halliday, Rebecca Teran, and Joshua Stenseth


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