Photo Credit: Gregory Toroian
That Holiday Feeling
Don’t Tell Mama
Dec 5 & 14, 2019
This show was billed as a traditional celebration the season through music and friends and that’s exactly what it was…warm, fun, homespun and cozy. The mission statement of the featured star, Kati Neiheisel, and her two friends and co-performers, Linda Jackson and Janice McCune was to spread joy to a wider audience…check off that box as well! It was the first Christmas show that I attended this year and was a total jump-start to my holiday season!
Opening with “Our First Christmas” (Barron/Renzi) – a really great song and opener – Neiheisel and the gals blew us away on many wonderful tunes, old and new. Neiheisel, herself, has the best vocal colors of two of my favorite singers, Rosemary Clooney and Karen Carpenter and when she sang Ms. Carpenter’s “Merry Christmas, Darling” (The Carpenters) there was an audible gasp throughout the entire audience. Clearly, they too, heard this pristinely beautiful part of her pure, gorgeous alto voice.
Of the 19 songs in the program (surprisingly the show was not long, nor did it feel long) 11 of the songs were “Chestnuts”…songs that we all know. There were many non-Christmas tunes of the season, gratitude, and songs about the feelings this season evokes, all beautifully arranged by Music Director, Gregory Toroian. The band, Skip Ward on Bass and David Silliman on Drums were stellar and contributed some lovely moments throughout the show, but most notably in their Overture which is a medley of the entire Charlie Brown Christmas album. NOTHING automatically taps into your Christmas soul and inner child like this moment. What a great way to bring a singer to stage too…everyone doing the “Snoopy dance” in their seats!
Neiheisel is a new song’s best friend because she makes the song sound familiar. She also is honing in well on her story telling, sticking to home, telling us of her 9 siblings and offering the imagery of 10 stockings hung on the mantle is charming and real. As she continues to become more-and-more comfortable with her story telling, not so much what she says, but more in her line delivery, I’d like to feel more humor from her, too. She’s funny off stage! I’m sure it will come! She raises the bar every time she steps on stage.
After opening the show with a few solos, Jackson and McCune joined Neilheisel for several tunes and they each had solos. Jackson had a wonderful take on the Horace Silver tune “Peace” and McCune’s “Man with the Bag” (Stanley/Taylor/Brooks) was preceded by a really funny story about the Sears Wish Book. (anyone remember that?) I also really enjoyed Neiheisel and McCune’s rendition of the show’s signature tune, “That Holiday Feeling” (Jacob/Jacob/Guereio). However, when McCune announced that she was “Steve” and Neiheisel was “Eydie” and then sang a flirty “couples” song there was a missed opportunity for comedy, and it came off as a little awkward. Instead, they should have just “gone for it,” leaning into a flirtatious “Steve and Eydie” performance would have been funnier. In contrast, the hysterical “Santa’s My Boyfriend (a parody from SNL of “The Dentist Song” from Little Shop of Horrors) was very funny.
While the idea was to celebrate the holidays with friends, I’d love to hear Neiheisel do another solo show – and soon! Her voice is lovely! And, while I loved the other women in this show, each of whom had fun, sweet moments on back up, trio work, and solos, there were some visually aesthetic issues that I would like to mention. Neiheisel is very laid-back, with a soft, speaking voice with minimal, yet appropriate facial responses, whereas McCune was excited and animated, to a level of distraction at times, and Jackson remained laid back with almost no facial responses. The trio was uneven in this respect. This needed to be addressed with a director, or trusted observer. Different personalities not-withstanding, the trio’s energy should match, or at least be complimentary to each other.
Music Director, Toroian and Director Geoffrey Stoner are a new collaborative team who also seem to keep finding their rhythm in a season that saw them presenting 3 collaborative class group shows and with Mr. Toroian also having 2 other big shows to play all over a two and a half week period. Bravo gentlemen…job well-done! To be able to allow each of these shows to stand out, separate from one another, is also something to note. I look forward to more collaborations as well.
Finally, it is impressive to note, once again, the very unique take of the final song of the night which is one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time. This song alone would put anyone in “That Holiday Feeling” but it was Neiheisel, Jackson and McCune that brought all the memories of Christmases past back into my heart as I walked out the door to start my holiday season. Thank you, ladies!
NOTE: Neiheisel deserves major props and special mention for taking the stage with a very seriously broken shoulder, as do all the three ladies for singing against an incredibly loud private party that was happening right outside the room, in the piano bar, and whose noise kept bleeding into the cabaret room. If they hadn’t earned their “Pro” badge in Cabaret yet, they all earned it at this performance.