Thursday, 16 December 2021 21:29

Review: Enter a Hallmark Movie with Barn Theatre's Christmas Cabaret

Written by  Marin Heinritz
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Barn Theatre's Christmas Cabaret. Barn Theatre's Christmas Cabaret.

This Christmas may feel different than years past, but it’s still the most wonderful time of the year at the Barn Theatre where it’s festive and joyful as all get out with the return of their Christmas Cabaret, a delightful performance to complete their marvelous 75th anniversary season.

Indeed, this show is the loveliest Christmas gift.

The folks at The Barn make sure everyone feels welcome; and here, under exquisite direction from Penelope Alex, Christmas is a little bit sacred, a little bit rock and roll, a little bit country, and a whole lot of fun, with some fantastic original compositions in addition to well-worn favorites made so new, you actually hear and feel them as if for the first time.

Take “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example, as a duet with no drums at all, a melody played on electric guitar by Luke Ragotzy (who also steals the show with his beat box skill on their rendition of Pentatonix's a cappella version of “Joy To The World”) with rhythm on acoustic guitar from Troy Benton, whose extraordinary playing accompanies Barn productions all summer long, but from the orchestra pit. Here, we get to see him on stage, and hear his original “All I Want This Year,” a heartwarming song he wrote during last year’s isolating pandemic Christmas; and it’s a sweet twist on the true meaning of Christmas.

Also deeply moving, Patrick Hunter’s extraordinary “O, Holy Night” draws a standing ovation and more than a few tears: and the harmonies Melissa Cotton Hunter, Katrina Chizek, and Andrew Troskey create in “Silent Night” inspire goosebumps.

And yet there’s also plenty of playfulness. Steven Lee Burright, who seems to channel Burl Ives with his “Holly Jolly Christmas” also makes great fun of political correctness in a reimagined “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Charlie King’s marvelous rendition of Harry Connick, Jr’s “I Pray for Christmas” gets a surprise laugh when he ad libs that he prays “that the vexed and unvaxxed get along,” and he leads the ensemble in a delightful Queen spoof “Santa Rhapsody.”

Melissa Cotton Hunter is also delightful in Mona Abboud’s “Pretty Little Dolly,” transforming herself into a hilarious and precocious little girl with wide eyes and one of her trademark silly voices. And her duet with husband Patrick Hunter of Kacey Musgraves’ “Present Without a Bow” is both touching and gorgeous.

This is but a smattering of highlights from the two-hour show that’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 touch of silliness and sass, and a whole lot of joy in the intimate space of the Rehearsal Shed where the performers move through the audience, and use the bar and the piano (with accompaniment from the excellent Musical Director Matt Shabala) as part of the stage with terrific choreography from Melissa Cotton Hunter.

To top it all off, there’s dessert. And homemade pizza, a new addition to the Barn experience. And cocktails. Served with witty banter and smiling faces by the performers themselves.

Maybe even an appearance by a jolly old elf with an opportunity to sit on his lap, take photos, and whisper in his ear what you really want for Christmas.

It all feels like the kind of dream-like family affair Hallmark attempts to create and we all long for — where everyone is beautiful and happy and talented and welcome, gathered around a piano to enjoy songs of hope, joy, and peace. And folks full of love and cheer get together to make merry, shine brightly and not only all get along, but are made better by each other’s company.

Christmas Cabaret
Barn Theatre
Dec. 10-22

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