Cabaret Review by Joe Regan Jr.
Richard Holbrook has always done a special Christmas holiday show and, despite his recent serious operations and recovery, he decided to do it again this year at Don’t Tell Mama beginning Sunday night, November 30. Accompanied by his master arranger/pianist Tom Nelson and Trio (bassist Tom Kirchmer and John Redsecker on drums and percussion), Holbrook’s show this year was entitled “Christmas In New York” and featured some familiar Christmas songs and also some rarities and some very special new songs.
The opening was a joyful “Silver Bells” mixed with “I Happen To Like New York” as Holbrook explained how much he loved the New York scene in the winter. His glorious voice matched “Use Your Imagination” and ”Pure Imagination” and his personal contact with all the old and new friends in the audience set up Sondheim’s “Old Friends,” swung in an energetic way with great work by the trio and lots of dance moves from Holbrook.
He recited, acted and sang his idol Portia Nelson’s “Confessions of a New Yorker (Hate-Love New York)” and bounced through “The Glow Worm” (Mercer and Mel Torme lyrics) and did an all out attack on Louis Armstrong’s great Christmas novelty, Steve Allen’s “Cool Yule.”
Two of the new songs were “It’s Always Christmas In New York,” a fun new list song of all the special things in New York City (holiday windows, Central Park, Santas (Ronny Whyte and Roger Schore), and “Christmas Angel,” Sue Matsuki and Paul Stephan’s tale of the Christmas Angel taken out every year to put on top of the Christmas tree – a sad tale of parents dying, children growing up as the angel becomes frail but embraces the grandchildren – a heart-breaking song in which Holbrook uses all his acting skills to give it great emotional impact.
Another obscure beauty was the song written in 1953 by actor-singer-dancer-author Carleton Carpenter entitled “Christmas Eve.” Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” seems to be a Christmas favorite this season with the upcoming movie of “Into The Woods.”
Holbrook described the Birth of Christ in the stable and how years later a German composer wrote what has now become a Christmas standard about the seventh witness: “Little Drummer Boy.” Accompanied by a Bolero- like beat, Holbrook tenderly enacted the narrative of the young drummer boy, and it was awe inspiring.
After his Mel Torme holiday medley which ran from “Jingle Bells” to “Winter Wonderland,” Holbrook sang another forgotten rarity by Burton Lane and Dorothy Fields, “Let’s Make It Christmas All Year Round,” written for a December 20, 1957 television musical version of “Junior Miss” and originally sung by Don Ameche, Joan Bennett, Carol Lynley and Jill St. John. The song has a sumptuous lyric and melody.
What was Holbrook’s encore: after all the Thank You’s to his friends and the staff, he saluted the audience with the great New Year’s Toast song, “Here’s To Us” from “Little Me,” with added personal lyrics greeted by wild applause.
“Richard Holbrook: Christmas in New York” repeats Monday, December 1 at 7 PM at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46 Street, between 8th and 9th Avenue. For reservations go to www.donttellmamanyc.com or call (212) 757-0788 after 4 PM.