A Kritzerland Christmas III
On Dec.1, "A Kritzerland Christmas III,"the third annual holiday cabaret evening presented by Bruce Kimmel's Kritzerland Records, in conjunction with associate producer Adryan Russ, offered an effervescent salute to the holiday season. A splendid ensemble of seasoned performers served up an irresistible potpourri of melodic yuletide delights.
Michael Sterling's classy supper club, Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal in North Hollywood, once again hosted Kimmel and company for a festive evening of food, drinks and musical merriment.
The no-muss, no-fuss presentation, superbly helmed by pianist-musical director Richard Allen, immediately set a jubilant tone with a little-known but jaunty number called "Be a Santa," from Jule Styne's 1961 Broadway musical "Subways are For Sleeping." The number, a genuine charmer, was crooned as a duet by buoyant Dan Callaway and radiant Ashley Fox Linton.
Callaway later delivered a bravura rendition of the gorgeous traditional hymn "O Holy Night" and the divine "Count Your Blessings" from the Bing Crosby film classic, "White Christmas." Linton returned for a lovely number called "Winter Was Warm," from the classic 1962 animated television special "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." This show was written by the songwriting duo for "Funny Girl," Styne and Bob Merrill. Linton also offered a warmly resonant rendition of the poignant Carpenters song, "Merry Christmas Darling."
In all, 15 stand-alone songs and four medleys were featured, as each member of the cast of nine had opportunities to sing the diverse numbers -- some well-known, some less so, but all well chosen. The bill of fare was by and large drawn from Kimmel's CD collections of holiday tunes on his Kritzerland label. Most of the songs originated in musicals created for stage, film, or TV.
An interesting change of pace occurred when Kimmel, who always hosts the Kritzerland evenings and offers intriguing tidbits about the songs and the shows, stepped up to perform the sprightly but goofy "Turkey Lurkey Time." Seeing this in the program immediately raised a question as to what he would do with this song, which is from the 1968 Burt Bacharach/Hal David show "Promises Promises," where it was a number for a sexy trio of female singer/dancers, including the immortal Donna McKechnie (Cassie of the original "A Chorus Line").
How in the world would the decidedly un-leggy Kimmel transform this goofy trio number into a solo for himself? He chose to satirize the bizarre lyrics ("Tom turkey ran away but he just came home... A loosey, goosey Christmas to you") by reciting them, sans music or dance. What he did wouldn't have served well as an audition for "Hamlet" or a Samuel Beckett play, and it did not suggest Kimmel might have replaced Kristen Chenoweth in the 2010 Broadway revival of "Promises." But his nutty gambit offered plenty of chuckles.
Fifteen-year-old dynamo Sarah Staitman sang "Jingle Bells," which was sung within a sprightly medley that also included the vintage rock hits "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock," (shades of Brenda Lee in her prime).
The evening's elegantly gowned guest star, golden-voiced Terri White, deserved the enthusiastic welcome she received when she entered to deliver a pair of evergreen Christmas ballads -- "This Christmas Waltz" written by Sammy Cahn and Styne for Frank Sinatra, and the World War II Bing Crosby favorite, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," a deeply moving paean to our American troops overseas. White is an impeccable vocalist and a sparkling personality.
The splendid Lisa Livesay generated fun in Kimmel's delightful song, "This Christmas," lightly kidding the celebration of differing religious faiths during the holidays. She sparkled in Frank Loesser's wistful classic "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" She offered a lively take on "Sleigh Ride."
Stellar baritone Robert Yacko, who has excelled in myriad Southland musical theater roles ranging from "Company" to "Parade," offered a gorgeous rendition of the Judy Garland classic "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," written for the film, "Meet Me in St. Louis." Kimmel offered the interesting fact that Garland and director Vicente Minnelli persuaded songwriter Hugh Martin to alter the original lyrics to this song, which they had deemed too depressing.
Yacko also scored strongly in "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," from the 1963 Meredith Willson tuner, "Here's Love," adapted from the 1947 classic film "Miracle on 34th Street." He was likewise excellent in "Penny to Penny" from one of many musicals based on Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," and in the Kay Starr standard "Man With the Bag."
Other fine moments included a rendition of Eartha Kitt's saucy "Santa Baby," gleefully interpreted here by Kelsey Scott. She was also superb in the lovely "The Gift," which features lyrics by Kritzerland's multi-talented co-producer Russ, and music by Brad Ellis, as well as in Mel Torme's evergreen "The Christmas Song."
Prodigiously talented nine-year-old Hadley Belle Miller sparkled in her spirited interpretation of "That's What I Want for Christmas," which Shirley Temple sang in "Stowaway."
The superbly talented Jenna Lea Rosen lit up the finale, a wisely chosen pair-up, mixing "Happy Holidays" with the immortal Bing Crosby gem, "White Christmas." Her pair of numbers was followed by the crowd-pleasing encore number, an audience singalong collaboration on "Jingle Bells."
Capping the evening off with a free CD, "Simply," featuring Sandy Bainum, offered to each guest, as well as delicious trays of Christmas cookies, Kritzerland and Christmas proved to be a felicitous holiday combination, almost four weeks early.
"A Kritzerland Christmas III" was performed Dec. 1 at Sterling’s Upstairs at the Federal, 5303 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. For information and tickets, call 818-754-8700 or visit www.msapr.net/Sterling-s-at-The-Federal.html.