review: the holiday guys in happy merry hanu-mas!

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The Holiday Guys in Happy Merry Hanu-Mas!

By Marc Kudisch & Jeffry Denman
Featuring Marc Kudisch & Jeffry Denman
York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Avenue
December 18, 2012  — December 31, 2012
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
December 27, 2012

(L-R) Marc Kudisch, Jeffry Denman. Image by Carol Rosegg.
(L-R) Marc Kudisch, Jeffry Denman.  Image: Carol Rosegg.

My final act of holiday season contrition for 2012 is to make the journey to the lower levels of St. Peters Church in midtown Manhattan for my first exposure to a “Holiday Guys” show. In a celebration of a “Hanu-Mas” of their mashed-up creation, Marc Kudisch the Hanukkah-celebrator and Jeffry Denman the Christmas-guy join forces, impose some mostly expendable banter, and present their own often delicious arrangements of an assemblage of holiday songs that are secular and religious in almost equal measure. From a set list of tunes in our playbill they proceed in their own order, accompanied in most tunes by a small jazzy group composed of Timothy Splain (piano), Ritt Henn (Bass) and Michael Croiter (drums). Best when they’re strumming intensely at their chosen instruments (guitar for Kudisch and ukulele for Denman) and delivering in the middle of their different vocal ranges — these two performers are always engaged and always entertaining.

Tunes with a bite, e.g. “My Simple Christmas Wish” with the refrain “I wanna be rich, famous, and powerful” delivered by Denman and summed up by Kudisch as “a holiday enema.” Tunes with a schmaltzy back story, e.g. “Holly Jolly Christmas” from the claymation 1964 “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”  delivered with a Jamaican back beat. Tunes that inspire tapdancing to Duke Ellington‘s “The Jazzy Nutcracker.” “There’s Always Tomorrow” on guitar and uke and Mel Torme‘s “The Christmas Song” accompanied by simple uke are among my favorites — simple, driving, focused vocals. Audience participation interludes and intersong patter are fine as far as they go, but can serve to stop the show cold.

(L-R) Margaret O'Brien, Judy Garland. Image from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) just before the song begins.
(L-R) Margaret O’Brien, Judy Garland. Image from Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) just before the song begins.

As I checked the numbers covered on the playbill listing — performed not in sequence as listed but in a scatological order perhaps inspired in the moment on stage — I eyed one in particular with some apprehension. Perhaps they’ll skip it, I muse. Perhaps they won’t impose a misfire on another Garland standard. I needn’t have worried. When we finally reached the final unchecked tune, the duo served up a finale of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with their crack jazz combo in a jazzy, insistent, Eartha Kitt-inspired, gutsy rendition of this tune that generated no comparison to (or denigration of) the original, and created something altogether new and lovely.

A cabaret act at its core, and it is those cabaret performances to which I respond. Strum it, boys.

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 28, 2012)

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