There was always a muddle of cheesy/glitzy in the television Holiday Music Extravaganzas from the 60’s and 70’s: kind of like Hamburger Helper – maybe not all that classy but very satisfying and filling. That’s how WaterTower Theatre’s Christmas season stage offering, the ebullient Rockin’ Christmas Party, by Austin’s Dave Steakley, feels. It will take you back to what masquerades as a less slick, less jaded era in variety show-style fun, but don’t look too hard for deep meaning. It’s Christmas; sit back in the Barca-lounger and pass that spiked eggnog, elf!
It’s closing week of ROCKIN’ CHRISTMAS PARTY, and we’re offering BUY 1, GET 1 FREE tickets!
Call the WTT Box Office at 972.450.6232
In revival from a decade ago, the current production features over fifity songs, some abbreviated, performed with verve and overall precision by five cast members from its earlier incarnations: Denise Lee, Markus Lloyd, Amy Stevenson, Sara Shelby-Martin and Jenny Thurman.
The newest cast member, Gary Lynn Floyd, practically steals the show with his fluent, charismatic voicing and smooth, sugary impersonation of a Perry Como-ish, Dean Martin-esque variety show host and crooner indulging in boyish narcissism’s glow. What a cutie, and does he use it to best advantage! Everybody has his or her moment to tinsel like the twinkling lights blinking on and off atop a 60’s mod aluminum Christmas tree.
Definitely the highest energy member of the cast and its youngest groove, Markus Lloyd astounds with his acrobatic, choreographed rhythm and strut and strong singing voice. He excels in numbers like J. Brown’s “I Feel Good” and makes the Act I finale “Love Shack” by the B-52’s its high point by sheer willpower, alone. Jenny Thurman and Sara Shelby-Martin’s personae and vocal styles compliment the Country part of the variety show extremely well, with Tom T. Hall’s “Harper Valley PTA” and a heart-wrenching interpretation of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” topping those ubiquitous popularity charts in the C&W set. In her rendition of Hutcheson and Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife”, Amy Stevenson exhibits the dramatic flair that clearly made her a hit in the original production. The audience follows her every move with adoration. How does one sum up Denise Lee? Face her with just about any type of music and she owns it. From Crewe and Nolan’s “Lady Marmalade” through Donna Summer’s “I Will Survive” to Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Lee’s consummate professionalism and outstanding instrument bring something fresh to classic tunes that make them seem all her own.
John de los Santos’ choreography, entertaining in a silly 60’s-70’s way, but not too strenuous for over age 40 performers, reinforces the ensemble nature of the performance. Scott Eckert’s musical direction is crisp and clear, uses each voice to solid advantage even as the solos work better than the group numbers and some cast members’ voices just don’t work all that well singing soul.
Michael Sullivan’s Christmas fantasy-land set with a flashy, monumental tree stage left helps keep the mood peppy and nostalgic, along with Jason S. Foster’s TV-screen bright, blazing lighting. Costumes and wigs by Michael Robinson disappoint in an otherwise enjoyable production. The wigs take parody to a messy, bizarre place (how does anyone make Denise Lee look unglamorous?). Several costumes are unnecessarily unkind and unflattering to the women wearing them, to the point of embarrassment. Close the eyes; just listen to the fun music and rock out. It’s a Party! Sock it to us, everyone!
Rockin’ Christmas Partyby Dave Steakley, directed by Terry Martin, runs through December 18, 2011 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison.
All photos by Mark Oristano
For tickets: http://www.watertowertheatre.org or 972-450-6232
Scott Eckert’s live and LIVELY band:
Scott A. Eckert — keyboard/sax
Adam Wright — keyboard
Dennis Langevin — guitar
Rick Norman — bass
Alan Pollard — drums