Employing a combination of the showmanship of the likes of Donald O’Connor, an animated physical presence, the ease of a polished cabaret performer and his wistful persona, Mr. Holbrook takes the stage for a compelling 85 minutes.
With his commanding and emotionally expressive baritone voice, the eternally boyish Holbrook wearing formal wear, vividly performs a program drawn from show tunes, Hollywood musicals, classical music, jazz and The Great American Songbook. The numbers are connected with his concise and engaging patter.
Holbrook is backed by the sensational Tom Nelson Trio. It’s comprised of Tom Kirchmer on bass, Peter Grant on drums and the musical director Mr. Nelson on piano.
A grand highlight of this collaboration is the swinging combination of Steve Allen’s “Cool Yule” and Reginald Jacques’ arrangement of “Piae Cantiones.” This is typical of Holbrook’s inventive configuration of medleys and juxtapositions, often joining traditional Christmas songs with more recent ones, yielding a novel take on the standard holiday concert.
His exquisite renditions of Kander and Ebb’s “Colored Lights” from The Rink and Jerry Herman’s “I Don’t Want To Know” from Dear World is so fresh that it’s like hearing these warhorses for the first time.
“Consider Yourself” from Lionel Bart’s Oliver! is matched with Leslie Bricusse’s “Thank You Very Much” (from the 1970 film Scrooge) and Ronny Whyte and Roger Schore’s “Always Christmas in New York” for an exuberant sequence.
After reminiscing about watching the television adaptation of Truman Capote’s story “A Christmas Memory” in the 1960’s, Holbrook launched into a portion capturing the innocence of childhood. This involves “Another Autumn” from Lerner and Lowe’s Paint Your Wagon, “I Remember” from Stephen Sondheim’s television musical Evening Primrose, Michele Brourman and Amanda McBroom’s “Make Me a Kite” and Harold Arlen and Capote’s “I Never Has Seen Snow” from House of Flowers. With Holbrook’s childlike facial expressions and matching vocal inflections, “Who Am I?” from Leonard Bernstein’s 1950 version of Peter Pan is a standout of this medley.
A jazzy “The Glow Worm” by Paul Lincke was equally as appealing with holiday lyrics by Johnny Mercer and Mel Tormé.
A lighter and often sardonic side of the most wonderful time of the year was conveyed by Portia Nelson’s “Confessions of a New Yorker (Hate-Love New York),” Tom Lehrer’s “A Christmas Carol,” and Frederick Silver’s “The Twelve Days After Christmas.”
“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells” are among the perennials that are perfectly rendered.
The show’s collaborator, the late Richard Barclay, is the director and the artfully slight staging with Holbrook shifting from the center to various areas of the small staging area gives the presentation scope.
Lighting and sound technician Jon Mercado’s efforts also contribute a theatrical dimension. Spotlights, fades, red hues and shimmering dimness complement the numerous moods of the performance that is realized with pristine tones.
From the opening’s rousing treatment of Cole Porter’s anthem, “I Happen To Like New York” with special material written by Fred Ebb and Marvin Hamlisch and additional holiday lyrics by Holbrook, to the affective encore of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” from Meet Me In St. Louis, The Many Moods of Christmas is inspirational entertainment that tenderly evokes timely emotions.
Richard Holbrook: The Many Moods of Christmas (November 26, December 3, 11 and 17, 2017 at various times)
Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-757-0788 or visit http://www.donttellmamanyc.com
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission
The esteemed vocalist with the backing of a sensational jazz trio superbly performs thirty eclectic songs during this beautiful holiday-themed show.