Neil Berg's revue of seasonal and non-seasonal standards at the Geffen Playhouse brings a welcome touch of the Great White Way to the west coast.
The show's concept is simple: five mainstays from the Great White Way, tenor Ivan Rutherford, singer-dancer Jeffry Denman, operatic Rita Harvey, sassy Carter Calvert, and humorous baritone Marc Kudisch, perform a mix of popular holiday songs wrritten for the stage and screen -- including "We Need A Little Christmas, "A Hard Candy Christmas," "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," and "White Christmas" -- as well as other non-seasonal standards.
Some of the seasonal ditties are given an amusing twist. Kudisch brings mock sincerity to the spoof "Lonely Jew" and playful deviousness to "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch." He also duets with Denman in an "Oh Hanukah/Oh Christmas Tree" showdown, and the pair bring a Smothed Brothers-like folksiness to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
Other selections smartly highlight the performers' talents. Kudisch's rendition of "I Were a Rich Man" is masterful. Harvey lends a soprano's strength to "Think Of Me" as well as the title number from The Phantom Of The Opera. Denman offers a rousing "Give My Regards to Broadway" complete with tapping, and a puckish "Singing In the Rain." Calvert is pitch-perfect on the Andrew Lloyd Webber anthem "Memory." Less succesful is Rutherford; although his anecdote of singing "Bring Him Home" as a lullaby to his son for 17 years is touching, once he breaks into the song, it feels disconnected.
One also wonders about a couple of Berg's choices; most notably "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago. That number would seem out-of-place in any holiday show, but the version here becomes even more troubling because the gender has been changed for two performers. When a slinky blonde sings of stabbing her brutish husband, it's black comedy gold; but when a burly man shouts that he's brutalized his weaponless wife by stabbing her 10 times, it's simply disturbing.