Although we haven't even celebrated Thanksgiving yet, Christmas feels like it's already upon us with New York's department stores prematurely glittering with decorations. Yes, the Holiday season has once again crept up on us like a thief in the night, folks! And Broadway follows suit with this festive-themed concert at the August Wilson Theatre, which began previews last Friday night and officially opened tonight.
Home for the Holidays is billed as "Broadway's only Christmas Show", which is technically true, although there is plenty of festive enchantment to be found elsehwere in NYC with Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular or Elf - The Musical at the Theater at Madison Square Garden... and there's even a dose of festive disenchantment, if you prefer, with Who's Holiday! at off-Broadway's Westside Theatre. But this musical revue boasts an array of Reality TV stars brought together for the very first time on a Broadway stage to warm the cockles of our hearts with 90 minutes of Christmas carols and classics. Headlined by Candice Glover (winner of “American Idol” Season 12), Josh Kaufman (winner of “The Voice” Season 6), and Bianca Ryan (winner of “America’s Got Talent” Season 1), there is no shortage of impressive vocal stylings with all the Christmas trimmings. These respective winners are backed up (sometimes literally, with backing vocals) by YouTube sensations Peter Hollens and his wife Evynne Hollens. Finally, the icing on the cake (or the branch of holly on the Christmas pudding in this case) is a small handful of nostalgic anecdotes by 84-year old Academy Award nominee Danny Aiello, whilst “The Bachelorette” Season 11 star Kaitlyn Bristowe serves as host for the evening.
So, let's get the "Bah, humbug!" out of the way... At the performance I attended, there seemed to be a few distracting technical issues with the sound, a sprinkling of pitchy vocals, and a couple of moments where the cast seemed unsure of their cues. There also doesn't seem to be an abundance of chemistry between the three headliners, when they perform together. Having said that, I'm sure these can all be ironed out as the production gains momentum towards Christmas.
And now because 'tis the season to be jolly, here's why Home for the Holidays might well be a Christmas cracker for you. Candice Glover, in particular, gives the most powerful and show-stealing vocals of the night and also seems to play the role of the ringleader, when it comes to breaking the fourth wall and engaging with the audience. Her stage presence creates the more relaxed, informal atmosphere that this revue needs to flourish. Her rendition of Faith Hill's "Where Are You, Christmas?" is the standard-bearer of the show.
Although offering up slightly more introverted performances, Josh Kaufman also shows he's in fine vocal form with his versions of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and Rob Thomas' "A New York City Christmas", whilst I found Bianca Ryan's take on Amy Grant's "Grown-Up Christmas List" most touching from her numbers.
The setlist swings between religious and secular offerings in an attempt to appeal to all, beginning with "Do You Hear What I Hear", "O Come, All Ye Faithful", "O Holy Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy", sleigh-riding through the pop chart tunes such as the aforementioned highlights as well as Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and Bing Crosby's "I'll Be Home for Christmas", before returning to the hymns with "The First Noel" and "Joy to the World" towards the end of the show. Danny Aiello's spoken interludes press the right buttons with his stories of impoverished beginnings to his very first Christmas present - a pair of Boxing gloves - which is later reenacted by the host Kaitlyn Bristowe, whose conributions to the production are sadly that of a exquisitely decorated, but superfluous, Christmas fairy on top of the tree.
If you are a fan of Ms. Glover or just simply can't get enough of the Christmas spirit, then this is the one for you.
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)
What the popular press says...
"Bring back Donny & Marie! As clean-cut as their 2010 Broadway Christmas may have been, it also displayed a ravenous need to entertain, not to mention unexpected senses of humor and kitsch. Sadly, those qualities are absent from Home for the Holidays, a limp revue of carols and Yule-themed pop songs that makes the Osmond siblings’ spectacle look as debauched as a Mötley Crüe concert."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Times
"If your happy place is an Odd Lot outlet, then “Home for the Holidays” will be right up your aisle, er, alley. That’s not an endorsement. It’s just that this seasonal pop-up concert on Broadway is one motley mix."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"There are moments of pleasure: Glover’s full-throated solo of the Faith Hill hit “Where Are You, Christmas?” wakes the audience, as does her climactic disco version of “Joy to the World”; the mild-mannered Kaufman, dressed like an assistant vice principal at prom, occasionally flashes some vocal soul. Mostly, though, it’s a clumsy affair whose religiose lip service to the virtues of simplicity and sacrifice harmonize poorly with its $99–$299 tourist-trap pricing."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Expertly recalling the sort of entertainment you'd experience on a cruise ship or in a low-rent Vegas casino, Home for the Holidays is a Christmas show only Ebenezer Scrooge could love."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
External links to full reviews from popular press...