A Well-Strung Christmas

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by Marilyn Lester

 

 

For anyone despairing that classical music is on the wane, the all-male string quartet Well-Strung is here to say different. In A Well-Strung Christmas, the group celebrated the holiday season with their trademark blend of adept musicality applied to a range of pop and classical numbers. Happily, the focus is on the music, with narrative (fun, but not their strong suit) kept to a minimum. It’s all about the playing and singing, starting with an energetic intro of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” (The Nutcracker; Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky) barreling into a medley of holiday bell songs.

Early on in the set it’s apparent that these buff boys are not only eye candy but skilled musicians who also sing very well. First violin is Edmund Bagnell (with the strongest voice of the group). Chris Marchant (a founder of the quarter with producer Mark Cortale) plays second violin, while Trevor Wadleigh plays the viola. On that most mellow of instruments, the cello, is Daniel Shevlin, who also offers strong vocal ability. Together, their style is a combination of inspired, high-energy bowing and pizzicato, through an eclectic, wide-ranging repertoire. Well-Strung’s gay sexuality (equally alluring to both genders) combined with sharp performance abilities and general smarts in placing pieces just-so in a set, produces an appealing show full of dividends from the serious to the sublime.

The overall chemistry of the group is pleasingly palpable. That rapport shows especially well in their smooth harmonies, which shone especially in “Hard Candy Christmas” (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas; book by Larry King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall) and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? (Frank Loesser). It doesn’t hurt either that some of the group also have theater experience. The traditional carol, “Silent Night” (Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr) was given drama with an instrumental opening, featuring a warm cello, yielding to the men softly vocalizing and finally opening up to a full-bodied presentation of the carol; their arrangement also featured a creative underpinning of medieval tones and riffs. Numbers not of the holiday sort included Taylor Swift’s “Mean,” Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” and Radiohead’s “Creep,” all powerfully played and sung. A tribute to the recently deceased songwriter, Leonard Cohen, was an intense, moving and inspired rendition of “Hallelujah.”

A hilarious takeoff on the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was a reconceived “Santa Went Down to Target” followed by a “Santa Baby” (Joan Javits and Philip Springer) with new lyrics, in which the cello was played like a guitar and the viola like a ukulele. For the musical onomatopoeia piece “Sleigh Ride” (Leroy Anderson and Mitchell Parish), the audience was encouraged to simulate the cracking of a whip with a quick clap as well as jingle keys for a sleigh-bell effect. Fun was to be had in a take on Frozen’s “Let It Go” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez) with a falsetto introduction into full-flavored harmony, which elevated this over-sung song to heights heretofore unimagined. The sendoff, the traditional English carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” featured an audience sing-along, which was not only in the festive spirit of the holidays, but of show business, where the saying goes, “leave them wanting more.” A Well-Strung Christmas was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander with finesse and pacing at a smart clip, with visual interest.

 

A Well-Strung Christmas, December 6 and 13, 2026 at 9:30 PM

Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th St., 646-476-3551, www.54below.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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