By Tina Arth
I’ve been treated to Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s annual holiday musical for most of the past decade, and this year’s offering, while still a video rather than live, injects a bit of seasonal “regular order” into the end of this jarring, and sometimes heartbreaking, year. As with their last production, the holiday show combines fine camera work, solid musicians, and an excellent cast, all produced in a way that ensures the safety of the whole Broadway Rose family.
Christmas My Way – A Sinatra Holiday Bash is a straight musical review, developed by David Grapes and Todd Olson and first performed in 2003. There is little pretext of a wraparound story, other than a series of expository moments that shine some light on a time when Frank Sinatra and his legendary “Rat Pack” dominated the popular music scene. Using 31 songs (about evenly split between standards and holiday favorites, all recorded at some point by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself) vocalists Charles Cook, Courtney Temple, Joe Theissen, and Malia Tippets recreate the ambience of a time when superstars seemingly were never without a glass of bourbon, a Lucky Strike, or both. With no formal intermission, 90+ minutes of song (leavened only by a few funny stories and some of the world’s worst jokes) might be a bit much – but, as Broadway Rose icon Dan Murphy points out in his curtain speech, you can hit the pause button and take a break any time you want to!
The show moves smoothly between powerful solos and meltingly lovely harmonies, and each of the performers gets ample time in the spotlight. Watch for the lighthearted choreography in Malia and Joe’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (and enjoy the fact that since they are a real couple, they can actually touch each other when they dance!). Speaking of Joe, settle back and enjoy his effortless “Come Rain or Come Shine” – it’s right down the middle of his range, and smooth as glass. Courtney is rock solid in her plaintive “I Get a Kick Out of You” – I’d love to see her play Reno Sweeney! Malia’s “Old Devil Moon” is a showstopper, but despite her chops as a vocalist, the place in the video that I returned to over and over was her utterly hilarious retelling of an O. Henry Christmas favorite – which should go down in history as “Malia’s Mangled Maji.” The camera’s ability to bring us close-ups is a real plus in many parts of the show, but nowhere is the technique used more effectively than in in this dryly comic bit of story-telling.
Wayne Brady fans (if you’re not one, you should be!) will appreciate Charles Cook’s vocals and styling, especially in “Witchcraft” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” The foursome bring some of their best harmonies to “The Christmas Song” and their spine-tingling a cappella “I Heard the Bells” – but for sheer nostalgia, nothing can touch their encore performance of the quintessential Sinatra ballad, “My Way.”
Costumes, lights, a few props, the simple set, and the three-camera video (with some great editing) combine to give the audience a series of memorable moments. There’s the clever use of a cocktail shaker as maracas, the subtle touch of an actual tip jar on music director/pianist Darcy White’s piano, the retro lighting on the huge Christmas tree. Malia looks great in the first half with her form-fitting red dress, but she moves to drop-dead gorgeous when she changes into the off-the-shoulder green number, and Courtney’s second-half red gown is a stunner. Subtler fifties touches include the men’s jackets – a subtle windowpane check for Charles and a truly snazzy plaid jacket on Joe.
While some of the musical arrangements have been updated, the show is definitely aimed at an audience old enough to remember Sinatra’s heyday, and may need to be seen in context by younger viewers. Be prepared for an avalanche of corny jokes – while Joe (who comes closest to representing Sinatra) gets the lion’s share, Courtney gets one real groaner. Luckily, even those not familiar with some of the standards should still appreciate the often-spectacular vocals, and the holiday classics come at a time when we all need a little Christmas!
Christmas My Way – a Sinatra Holiday Bash is available on video from the Broadway Rose website. Purchase by December 24th to stream through December 31st - $25 gets you 48 hours of unlimited viewing, so you can share it with the folks in your bubble (household) for two days!