Even if the names Marc Kudisch and Jeffrey Denman are as foreign to you as the middle monikers of the three wise men, there’s a wonderful familiarity to their on-stage personas as The Holiday Guys. It’s the kind of relaxed, off-the-cuff give and take that’s been enjoyed for generations, whether packaged as Hope and Crosby, Allen and Rossi or Brooks and Reiner.
Kudisch, the powerfully-voiced, square-jawed baritone, is known to musical theatre audiences as the kind of actor who excels at both serious leading man roles and the kind that spoof his hunky looks. Denman is the kind of classic Broadway song and dance man who recalls a time of crowded supper clubs and art deco glitz.
Their two-man seasonal vehicle, Happy Merry Hanu-Mas, has the feel of an intimate television special from back in the days when Broadway performers were a beloved part of American popular culture and coast-to-coast televised visits with them had families anxiously gathered around the tube.
Actually, television figures rather prominently in their song list, which includes memories from A Charlie Brown Christmas, the stop motion animated Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and the more recent South Park. And you’ll probably detect a bit of Oscar and Felix in the guys’ holiday personas; Kudisch as the casually-clad Jewish lug with a frat boy attitude gulping refreshment from a stein and Denman as the nattily dressed fastidious WASP reviving himself with sips from a proper cocktail tumbler. Music Director Timothy Splain leads the band from an upstage corner of James Morgan’s festively trimmed living room set.
Working without a credited director and apparently self-scripted, the “plot” of the 90-minute entertainment concerns whether or not Kudisch can convince Denman to stop worrying about the rehearsed program and just kick back and do what feels right. The result is a quirky mixture of traditionally-presented favorites like “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and fun variations like a Caribbean-flavored “Holly Jolly Christmas,” a jazz-tap arrangement of The Nutcracker and a challenge sing-off of “O Hanukkah” and “O Christmas Tree.”
Lucky audience members win gently used presents in the show’s “re-gifting” segments and there’s even a spot for a guest star (Michael Riedel the night I attended) to give a dramatic reading of Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas while the boys embellish the mood with radio-style sound effects.
Photos of Marc Kudisch and Jeffry Denman by Carol Rosegg.
In these days when national budgets lay imbalanced by trillions of dollars, it’s rather easy to think of astronomical amounts of currency as little more than figures on a computer screen that have no physical existence. At least, that’s the justification the protagonist of Theresa Rebeck's Dead Accounts claims in defense of his get rich reasonably quick scheme.
Norbert Leo Butz, using the same kind of frenetic energy that won him Tonys for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Catch Me If You Can (Jack O'Brien, who directed those two ventures, also helms this mounting.), carries much of the evening on his talented shoulders as Jack, a lower rung New York bank employee who has been slowly liquidating inactive accounts of deceased clients whose beneficiaries seem to be unaware of their existence. The millions he’s acquired, he reasons, belong to nobody and just clog up the bank’s records.
A surprise visit to his mother’s (Jayne Houdyshell, wasted on bland material) Cincinnati home sees him wildly splurging on ice cream and take-out pizza, baffling his sister Lorna (Katie Holmes). So little happens in the first act that three lines into the second act the entire first half of the play becomes superfluous. The dialogue flutters about between childhood memories, discussions of ethics and a few anti-New York zingers. Trees (The kind that money doesn’t grow on?) also figure prominently in Rebeck’s text and, eventually, David Rockwell’s kitchen set.
O’Brien keeps his star on the move with the ensemble generally hot on his trail. Josh Hamilton, as Jack’s affable buddy with a secret crush on Lorna and Judy Greer, as Jack’s snooty wife trying to maneuver the most financially advantageous way to end their marriage, make fine impressions in underwritten roles.
Holmes has improved somewhat since making her professional stage acting debut four years ago in the Broadway revival of All My Sons – she’s audible this time – but as a stage actor her ability to generate ticket sales through her celebrity remain her most valuable asset.
Photo of Norbert Leo Butz and Katie Holes by Joan Marcus.
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