At this time of year, especially for veterans of holiday theatergoing, it's easy to feel like it's all been done.
We keep returning to these holiday classics – "White Christmas," "A Christmas Carol," "The Nutcracker" – for the same reason we keep putting up the Christmas tree or lighting the menorah: because there's comfort in the familiar.
With a keen understanding of our addiction to tradition and our mounting boredom with exactly that, the extraordinarily gifted song-and-dance man Jeffry Denman has returned to his native Western New York with fellow showman Marc Kudisch with the perfect cure for any encroaching yuletide fatigue: "The Holiday Guys: Happy Merry Hanu-Mas."
The result is irresistible, worth rescheduling your weekend to see. Its opening in MusicalFare Theatre on Thursday night was one of those rare and wonderful theatrical experiences, in which the energy of an eager crowd and of the two tuned-in performers existed on the same wavelength for the entire 90-minute evening.
The show, work-shopped at MusicalFare last winter and now on a four-city tour of Northeast theaters that ends with a two-week run in New York City, is a classic comedy setup infused with a healthy dose of contemporary humor. Denman plays the straight man – a Christmas-lover all buttoned-up in a tie, vest and jacket – while Kudisch plays his goofy, pajama-wearing Jewish counterpart.
Together, they riff on the joys and peculiarities of their respective holidays, finding common ground just about everywhere.
Kudisch gives us a winning performance of his clever arrangement of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's holiday masterpiece "Lonely Jew on Christmas." Denman delivers a charming rendition of David Friedman's hilarious "My Simple Christmas Wish."
And the two meet in the middle on all sorts of holiday (and Broadway) classics, including the great tap number "Put One Foot in Front of the Other," "The Christmas Song," and a side-splitting mash-up of "O Christmas Tree" with an invented number called "O Hanukkah."
At Thursday's performance, a cameo from Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who read from "The Night Before Christmas" as Kudisch and Denman performed sound effects, put the whole evening over the top.
They do all this while making the evening seem entirely off the cuff, a testament to their innate skill as performers as much as their simple and genuine charm. The spirit they showed on the MusicalFare stage was infectious – enough to jolt even the most stubborn Grinches among us into the holiday spirit.
> THEATER REVIEW
The Holiday Guys in Happy Merry Hanu-Mas"
Review: 4 stars (Out of 4)