When Andrea Arvanigian soulfully sings “Love is who we are and no season can contain it,” from Sara Bareilles’ sweet 2011 song “Love is Christmas” in the second act of The Barn Theatre School’s Christmas Cabaret, it’s impossible not to feel the truth of those lyrics straight from the heart of all the performers most regularly seen here during the summer months.
It’s a long, cold winter between summer stock seasons for patrons of The Barn as well as for Barnies, the affectionate name for those who put on shows there between June and September. But for the fifth year, an annual Christmas Cabaret helps keep the home fires burning.
Indeed, for performers and patrons alike, this show is a special kind of homecoming — one in which some of the brightest talents get to sparkle and shine in an extended Christmassy way that’s also reminiscent of the beloved bar shows offered after every summer mainstage performance.
Directed and staged by Penelope Alex and choreographed by Jamey Grisham, this year’s Christmas Cabaret is a wonderful showcase for the cast of seven talented Barnies (five of whom are Equity actors) who returned “home” to sing, dance, and play a terrific variety of numbers, some wickedly funny and contemporary, others traditional, dramatic and sacred; with all of the music tremendously festive and a far cry from the insipid, ubiquitous holiday tunes played on FM radio stations and at the mall since Halloween. Thanks to the exceptional cast’s unique interpretations of innovative and lovely arrangements, this is is not your run-of-the-mill holiday music — or show.
Highlights include the ever-charismatic Charlie King’s bluesy renditions of “Please Come Home” and “Frosty Blues,” as well as the hilarious reimagining of “The Little Drummer Boy” in San Francisco Christmas. King also leads Jonnie Carpathios, Jamey Grisham, and Miguel Ragel Wilson as the delightful jug band The Mistletoes, complete with wash board as well as jug and ukulele. The male cast are also a stitch in the tropical “Christmas Paradise” (Grisham is gold with his Carmen Miranda fruity headpiece, maracas and moves). Carpathios is bright-eyed and sweet-voiced throughout, and does a mean beat box. As does Ragel Wilson, whose warm, smooth voice is utterly pleasing and not unlike Michael Buble’s, particularly in the touching “Believe” and the jazzy rendition of Jingle Bells he does with the women.
Hannah Eakin’s soprano is crystal clear and her dramatic range is moving, particularly as she possesses the voice and spirit of the Virgin Mary in “Breath of Heaven.” She also has surprisingly impressive hip-hop chops (as do Arvanigian and Gabi Shook) that emerge in “Sweater Season,” a hilarious appropriation of pop female anthem “Bang Bang” that evolves into a big, fun ensemble number in which the cast members shimmy, shake and sing in ugly sweaters and goofy head pieces.
There are other big wonderful ensemble pieces in addition to sweet solos and duets, most notably a gorgeous Pentatonix mash up of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” with “Winter Wonderland” and a lovely arrangement of “Silver Bells” in which the voices provide lyrics as well as percussion.
It’s a beautiful blend of voices, talents and variety of styles, with songs thoughtfully sequenced throughout the first and second sets, honoring the many moods of the season with a little bit of the sacred, a touch of sass, a whole lot of joy, and absolutely zero pretension in the intimate space of the Rehearsal Shed where the piano (and excellent accompanist Loretta Cetkovic), performers, audience and bar are on the same level.
To top it all off, there’s homemade pie. And Mad Libs. Maybe even an appearance by a jolly old elf. A little audience participation. And cocktails. Served with witty banter and smiling faces by the performers themselves.
It all feels like an intimate family affair — the way we perhaps imagine the holidays to be in our dreams, where everyone is beautiful and happy and talented and welcome; and folks full of love and cheer get together to make merry and shine bright in honor of something much larger than us.
Through Dec. 23