It would be easy to OD on holiday shows. I see very few. The talent and intimacy in ‘Tis the Season make it a happy surprise. Todd Murray, Stacy Sullivan, Kristoffer Lowe, and Sally Wilfert exude warmth and mutual appreciation. Staging is polished, not stiff, harmony winning, personal stories heartwarming – not saccharine. Numbers range from traditional -an impressively resounding, a capella “Carol of the Bells” (Mykola Leontovyc/Peter J. Whilhousky) – to contemporary originals.
Murray opens with Amy Grant’s homey “Tennessee Christmas.” The ladies provide back-up. Everyone, we’re told, will step up and share memories, “…we really just want to leave you in the mood.”
Yasuhiko Fukuoka and Kristoffer Lowe
Kristoffer Lowe regales us about his childhood holiday in Alabama. “When they said you know who is watching, I thought they meant Jesus.” High expectations, he notes, rode tandem with fear mongering. “Who was this overweight man who crept into our homes in the dead of night?!” At the bottom of a list which literally unfurls to the floor, is the most coveted item – a Toby Cabbage Patch doll. (The toys were so in demand at Christmas in the 1980s, there were retail riots.) Instead of Toby, however, Lowe received a questionable letter from St. Nick and a substitute made by his grandmother. Description is priceless.
The singer’s dark, innuendo-filled rendition of John Frederick Coots/Haven Gillespie’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is perfect illustration of his then feelings. Lowe follows with “The Christmas Song”(Mel Torme), abiding wishes for a Norman Rockwell Noel. Consonants whisper. The song arrives unfussy and sincere.
Sally Wilfert gives us “Wish for Daddy” (Ken Jones/Gerald Stockstill) in which a young girl bemoans having two fathers, a choreographer and a studio photographer, each of whom demonstrates classically gay taste and exerts demands. She doesn’t care which one goes, just so life is simpler. The turn becomes a production number, larger than necessary for its lyrics, but boy can Wilfert sing! Clarity, range, control…Nor is she a slouch at projecting emotion. The vocalist grew up in small town Ohio. “Christmas Clichés” (Lynn Ahrens/ Stephen Flaherty) is affectionate and sentimental, a Grandma Moses painting.
“I Brought You Violets for Your Furs” (Matt Dennis/Tom Adair) or, as Todd Murray sings, vi-o-lets, emerges tender. The vocalist’s eyebrows rise, eyes close, his torso leans forward as if willing himself to regain the moment. Murray tells us about the central Pennsylvania Christmas that couldn’t begin until Aunt Kitty, conceivably hungover, tramped across a field in rain boots, her pajamas, and a ratty fur coat to join his family of seven. The story is so vivid, one can practically see his colorful relative and oh, the pianistic example of her talents!
Todd Murray and Troy Fannin
Whatever his roots, the performer has achieved professional sophistication as a master crooner. One of two holiday songs Murray has just written and released, “I’m getting Into the Swing of Christmas,” is unusually performed tonight to a recorded soundtrack. “This sucker was very expensive,” he explains. In fact, one can hear every dollar of the textured music. Still, the jaunty number would hold up without. An alternative to the uber-familiar, it describes a celebratory outlook in modern terms.
Stacy Sullivan, who seems to carry her own light source, is the seventh of eight predominantly musical children from Foggy Bottom, Oklahoma. After an urbane “Winter Wonderland” (Dick Smith/ Felix Bernard), the artist haltingly recalls her beloved father and one particular winter. War raged beyond and violence within our borders, but the family created its own loving world. Written by siblings, Heather and Tim Sullivan, “Christmas Morning 1969” is rhythmic country. Generations clashed/Dreams were dashed… Let there be peace on earth/And let it begin with me, she sings… Let it begin with us, she adds. The entire room is hushed.
In well choreographed succession, we hear Sullivan’s ardent “Some Children See Him” (James Taylor), Wilfert’s stirring “Heirlooms” (Brown Bannister/Bob Farrell/ Amy Grant), Murray’s resonant “I Wonder As I Wander,” and Lowe’s soaring tenor “O Holy Night” with the others as back-up. The last exultant lyrics finally drift down like snowflakes.
Paul Horner/Peggy Lee’s “Angel On My Pillow” closes the entertaining evening with good will and best wishes. This should be an annual presentation.
Photos by Green Bag Photography
‘Tis The Season
Yasuhiko Fukuoka MD/Piano
Troy Fannin- Guitar
The Laurie Beechman Theater
407 West 42nd Street
November 27, 2018