The Christmas revue, an art form that never seems to lose its popularity, has a fine line to walk.
How to please audiences with the classics they came for and yet not be as repetitive as the 24th hour of an all-day “A Christmas Story” marathon on basic cable? Is there anything to say about Christmas that hasn’t yet been said?
Musical Theater Heritage’s 2016 production of “A Spectacular Christmas Show” is a poppy, upbeat offering that’s a bit light on substance. Though fun, it doesn’t fully reach the depth of feeling that the best Christmas music can evoke.
Fortunately, the audience for this kind of show is a generous bunch — they came here for the Christmas spirit, after all.
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The show is presented in two acts. Act 1 features all songs from stage and movie musicals. Some, like Brooke Lacy’s jazzy take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” have entered the canon of Christmas classics. Others are Christmas-ified versions of other songs, such as “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” a twist on “Hairspray’s” “The Nicest Kids in Town.”
The company reaches out to the audience during “We Need a Little Christmas,” sending a lighted garland through the seats, and the act finishes off with some pop-spirituality from “Godspell” and “Children of Eden.” Lexi Brie’s gospel solo on the closing song is one of the highlights of the show.
Between songs, the performers share stories of childhood Christmases or wishes for the future, but these moments never quite land. Without a punch line or a deeper current to connect them, they feel kind of inconsequential, more like small talk with strangers than well-scripted theater.
Director Tim Scott stages the show in the kind of timeless, midcentury style that evokes Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Act 1 is all bright lights, red and green costumes, swing-timey arrangements. Act 2 takes the lights down, classes up the costumes and presents more traditional Christmas tunes.
Most of the songs in Act 2 are modern pop arrangements of classics, such as Jack Johnson’s folky take on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “We Three Kings.” This version, sung by Pancho Villegas, Eric Morris, Matthew King and Tina Maddigan, is one of the best numbers in Act 2.
The set list of “A Spectacular Christmas Show” trends toward the secular “Let’s get presents from Santa!” aspects of Christmas more than the “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all” sentiment, though we do end singing “Joy to the World.”
The show certainly doesn’t give you a new take on Christmas, if that’s even possible, but for a bit of family-friendly theater for the holiday season, this show is easy to like.