By Tina Arth
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas all over the metro area, but nowhere is the holiday spirit launched with more heart and verve than Broadway Rose’s New Stage in Tigard. A Taffeta Christmas, a 1950’s Musical Revue is drenching its audience with a dose of nostalgia that would be near-lethal were it not leavened by amazing vocal arrangements and lovingly ironic touches. For scheduling reasons, I suspended my usual “no Christmas activities or apparel until after Thanksgiving” rule to see the show (and don my first holiday-themed attire) at its preview on Thanksgiving Eve – and my flexibility was amply rewarded.
Local author Rick Lewis’ holiday creation, like its predecessor The Taffetas, features sisters Kaye, Peggy, Cheryl, and Donna in a four-piece fifties “girl group.” The girls are back home Muncie, Indiana filming a televised special “Hometown Holiday Hoedown” for their loyal fans. Since the entire TV show is performed live (we are the studio audience) there is no attempt to create a backstory other than what the girls reveal between songs – in about 95 minutes, they deliver thirteen complete songs and three medleys. The holiday theme is pervasive, but not exclusive – songs like “Jambalaya,” “Sincerely,” and the wonderful “Secret Love Medley” lend period-appropriate variety to the show’s offerings. The “Taffeta Chatter” segment, the Galaxy Beauty Product ads, and a too-fabulous guest appearance by Cousin Warren keep the evening moving with a spirit of campy fun.
A musical revue rises (or falls) on the strength of the vocalists, and all four Taffetas (Kira Batcheller, Stephanie K. Leppert, Natalie McClure, and Dru Rutledge) deliver flawless performances. They are masters of complex four-part harmony, and each has the lead voice necessary to not just carry, but also adorn, frequent solo spots. Blocking a show where each performer is constantly attached to a long microphone cord must have been a nightmare, but Director/Choreographer Dan Murphy manages to keep all four girls posing, dancing, and weaving like they were coated in Johnson’s No More Tangles. Music Director/pianist Jeffrey Childs and his band mates, bassist Fletcher Nemeth and drummer Bill Morris-York, are unobtrusively tucked away in the background but they provide impeccable support to the production.
Costume designer Jim Crino captures just the right fifties Christmas look: bright red dresses accented by occasional touches of white lace or fur, classic “Jackie O” pearls that fit perfectly with the bouffant wigs and bright red lipstick (Galaxy brand, no doubt – the brand preferred by nine out of ten Hollywood starlets!). The scenic design by Gene Dent has the requisite “everything in one place” feel of a fifties TV show; one side of the stage is dedicated to nothing but the sponsor’s products, while the other houses a well-stocked bar that would feel at home in any rec room of the era, and the whole set exudes over-the-top Christmas charm.
A Taffeta Christmas is definitely not for everybody. Theater-goers in search of cutting-edge material, challenging dissonance, and cultural cynicism will have to find their needs met elsewhere – but for the rest of us, Broadway Rose is closing its 2015 season with just the right touch. Several shows are nearly sold out, so buy your tickets on-line as soon as possible.
“A Taffeta Christmas” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, December 20th with performances at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:00 pm matiness on Saturday and Sunday.