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Broadway Holiday

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.

Neil Berg, Rita Harvey and Carter Calvert
in Broadway Holiday
(© Scott J. Kimmins)
A mostly light evening of song, Neil Berg's Broadway Holiday, now at the Geffen Playhouse, is like wandering into a Manhattan watering hole and discovering some top-notch Broadway talent prattling away around the piano.

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.

Still, such minor missteps aside, Broadway Holiday is a welcome addition to the holiday season.