Who knew such simple holiday fare could make such a sumptuous feast? Signature Theatre’s Holiday Follies serves up a delightful evening of holiday-themed tunes performed in a relaxed, cabaret atmosphere by a rock-solid cast. Conceived and directed by Walter Ware, III, this show proves that the only vital ingredient to a great performance is a great performer.
It’s the holidays! Enjoy!
Eleasha Gamble, James Gardiner, Bobby Smith, and Rachel Zampelli make up the featured ensemble, accompanied instrumentally (and sometimes vocally, too) by Garbriel Mangiante on the piano and Steven Walker on the guitar. The show consists of 14 separate songs, the titles of which are hidden in 14 Christmas stockings strung along the rear of the stage. The audience, however, determines the order in which the stockings are opened.
This random element infuses the night with the tension of a sporting event. The cast discovers whose number has been called. The lucky one has no more than a few moments of banter to prepare before launching into the next song. And, as we laugh or cry along, we marvel at the skill with which these wonderful performers are able to touch our hearts on only a moment’s notice.
Zampelli is a charmer. Her comic range was on display in “Surabaya-Santa,” in which she sings of her stormy affair with Santa Clause with wild emotional swings that are both hilarious and pathetic. On the more serious side, she also evoked heartbreaking loss in Tori Amos’s “Winter” and teamed up with Gamble for a beautiful duet of “Where Are You Christmas.”
Gardner has a boyish face and crystal-clear voice that makes him seem made for the stage. His featured performances of “Ugly Sweater” and “Christmas at the Trailer Park” evoked peals of laughter from the audience, and he made it look absolutely effortless.
Gamble brought the power with her solos, including an inspiring “Would You Imagine a King” that sent chills down my spine. She also exuded both innocence and desire teaming up with Smith for an absolutely charming “Baby Its Cold Outside.” Smith performed his half with the suavity and charm of Bing Crosby, and we were putty in his hands during his tender rendition of “Winter Romance.”
As great as they were individually, the cast hit their highest notes in the ensemble pieces, especially their educational pantomime of “Good King Wenceslas” and, in a nod to Hanukah, their sonorous intonation of “Moaz Tzur.” Even the musicians got into the act, becoming half of the all-male barbershop quartet singing “Frosty the Snowman.” Guitarist Walker was something of a secret weapon, stealing the show with his solo “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” He can produce a simultaneous range of sounds rivaling that of an orchestra.
While reveling in the evening overall, one does have to forgive a few rough patches. The opening number and finale are forgetfully banal, and there are essentially no “production values.” On opening night, some numbers looked like they could have used one more day of rehearsal, although the cast ably turned that rawness to their comedic advantage, such as when Gardner desperately tried to avoid looking at the crib sheet held aloft in his hand.
Director Ware has cooked up a terrific show in Holiday Follies, and after all, with all this talent, who needs rehearsal? It’s the holidays! Enjoy!
Running Time: Approximately one hour and twenty minutes with no intermission.
Holiday Follies plays through December 23, 2012 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Virginia 22206. For tickets call the Box Office at 703-820-9771 or click here.