A delirious medley takes care of a batch of requisite perennials with the remaining two plus hours interspersed with production numbers, solos, duets, comedy portions and personal revelations. The admitted aim is to channel the wholesome tone of vintage seasonal television variety specials. It’s a nice return to the quaint universe of Andy Williams, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.
“Silent Night” is the grand opening done as an amusing sight gag duel between stars Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. Then it’s onward to a raid on the well-known catalogue: “We Need a Little Christmas,” “This Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “Carol of The Bells” are among the standards that get beautiful treatments. This is due to Ben Cohn and John Jackson’s sumptuous arrangements and orchestrations and the orchestra’s commanding musicianship.
There’s also a recurring bit à la Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In where cast members poke their heads through a festive background to deliver corny jokes. Other antics include a Christmas stocking used as a “prayer sock” for the company to put money in for saying mildly off-color things and an audience member brought onstage for a Mad Libs detour. Fans of the show’s headliners will be overjoyed by experiencing them live and anyone else might find it to be all in all enjoyable innocuousness.
Studdard was the winner of the second season of the television competition show American Idol in 2003 where Aiken came in second. Here, wearing a succession of glitzy outfits and ugly sweaters they exhibit their renowned powerful singing, personability and a delightful rapport.
The marvelous company who sing, dance and appear in comic sequences all with distinctive verve is comprised of Farah Alvin, Ken Arpino, Julian Diaz-Granados, La’Nette Wallace and Khaila Wilcoxon.
Mr. Arpino and Jesse Joyce’s script is a skillful assembly of retro genre conceits linked by old-time humor with dashes of emotion. Jonathan Tessero’s expert direction and Lisa Shriver’s snappy musical staging contribute smooth pacing and momentum.
Scenic designer Robert Bissinger contributes to the homey nostalgia with his splendid large atmospheric snowy artificial Christmas trees that are prominently placed and a cozy wood-themed living room containing a fireplace. These authentically detailed pieces all ingeniously appear to have been hauled out of a Burbank warehouse where they’ve been in storage since 1977.
Paul Miller’s lighting design emits festive hues and sparkling brightness. Sound designer Bruce Landon Yauger finely renders the singing, musicians and effects. Sequins are plentiful in James Brown III’s glittering costume design that vividly enhances the look of the performers.
Jason Lee Courson’s neat projection design includes the opening film sequence of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer narrating a Star Wars-style graphic prologue with warm Christmas imagery.
National Inclusion Project (NIP) is a philanthropy co-founded by Mr. Aiken in 2003 when he was pursuing a degree in special education that assists children with disabilities. A portion of the show’s ticket sales are being donated to it and a short video documenting its goals is screened.
Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show is a prime opportunity for those seeking a merry diversion at the most wonderful time of the year.
Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show (through December 30, 2018)
Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 800-447-7400 or visit http://www.rubenandclay.com
Running time: two hours and 20 minutes with one intermission