Less than two weeks after closing a demanding yet highly successful production of Sweeney Todd, Boiler Room Theatre launches into the holiday season with That '60s Christmas Show, a new revue featuring some original material and dozens of seasonal songs. Jamey Green and Lewis Kempfer are the creators of this intentionally cornball salute to '60s entertainment culture, which has some good-natured retro fun while covering the range of time-honored Christmas music.
The set-up places us in the audience of a live New York City television broadcast in December 1963, where has-been crooner Jack Clurman (Alan Lee) plays host to a coterie of singers, actors and comedians who roll out one festive medley after another, interspersed with comic sketches, live commercials and a handful of backstage interludes, wherein we glimpse behind-the-scenes banter, technical mishaps, etc. Kempfer and Green have established a joyous atmosphere, and the ensemble of eight earns well-deserved applause for consistently goodand almost relentlessrenderings of classics such as "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?," "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and on and on. By evening's end, about 50 different numbers are covered one way or the other. The various medleys revolve topically around snow ("Winter Wonderland"), colors ("Blue Christmas," "Silver Bells"), a tribute to Brenda Lee ("Jingle Bell Rock") and the Christ Child ("What Child Is This?" and other churchy tunes).
Act 2 exploits the '60s more obviously, highlighting icons such as the Singing Nun, Zero Mostel and Gypsy Rose Lee, all of whom are lampooned with good cheer and appropriately over-the-top costuming, including Megan Murphy as a gold-lamé-clad Elvis Presley. Commercial satires poke fun at corporate targets, highlighted by three women posing with vacuum cleaners and touting the slogan, "Nothing sucks like a Hoover." There's also a funny sketch in which some confusion results in cast members mixing dialogue from It's a Wonderful Life with Dickens' A Christmas Carol. (Mr. Potter and Ebenezer Scrooge find some humorous common ground.)
It's often hard to believe we're at a TV studio. This show flows more as if we're watching the performance of a radio program, and there's nothing established technically to convey the television ambience, save for the show's announcer holding up an occasional "applause" sign. On an anachronistic note, "Feliz Navidad," Jose Feliciano's signature holiday tune, wasn't written until 1970, so it could never have made it into the 1963 song lineup.
The performances are mixed but generally energetic and infused with mirth. Lee seems tentative, and he doesn't fully conjure the insincere savoir faire of Rat Pack Vegas. But Patrick Kramer is hilarious doing an Irish jig; Joe Truman sings with heartfelt spirit as easily as he works the spoofs; and L.T. Kirk, as the TV show's key grip, emerges late in the evening to offer a gorgeous rendition of "Jesu Bambino." Meanwhile, Murphy holds the whole thing together with her first-rate vocal power and giddy acting.
Co-author Green leads the onstage musical combo with high-class piano, and Tom McGinley's flute and sax add-ons help give the incessantly eclectic score some muscle. Cat Eberwine's period costumes, especially those for the actresses, are authentic and eye-catchingly colorful.
That '60 Christmas Show runs through Dec. 22 at The Factory at Franklin.
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