UNDER THE RADAR
Perhaps you've heard about this next show as a live event at some
point over the last few years, as it has been performed in different
cities. It has now been captured on disc with its original cast. It's a
rather quiet release for a CD that's anything but quiet.
If you've had too much
Christmas, or too much show biz, this is the perfect antidote. But
Judy's Scary Little Christmas is too good to waste on Scrooges. It's a
very clever satire of celebrities, forced holiday cheer and TV specials
with that old scripted banter meant to sound "natural." Judy
is Judy Garland, with many of her sung and spoken vocal quirks expertly
absorbed by Connie Champagne. She gets a lot out of the word
"marvelous" and has sharp timing - plus vibrato she can
apparently turn on at will. The more you know Garland's repertoire
(including her 1963 television Christmas show) and that of Ethel Merman,
the more you'll appreciate the bits of songs and stylings woven in so
well. Merman is played by Lauri Johnson, doing a Hawaiian number that's
way, way over the top - but so is the whole show.
Guilty pleasure? Sure, but a well-crafted one by songwriter Joe Patrick
Ward who knows his musical ghosts of Christmas Pastiche. Song standouts
are the deliciously rich-with-cliches "Back in Christmas Town"
and the very Judyesque "Angel Star." The included dialogue by
James Webber and David Church is equally on target, and the targets are
some of the most parodied stars. To mine new laughs from the likes of
Joan Crawford and Richard Nixon is quite a feat. Besides the talent,
what makes this work is an affection for the show tunes and showy
personalities (well, maybe not so for Nixon, but the idea of him in his
Vice President period reluctantly duetting with Lillian Hellman is a
cute hoot). Eric Anderson and Jan Sheldrick do the dishonors.
The writers know their subjects and every embellishment, adding some of
their own. Ward's music and lyrics show he has done his homework.
Musical quotes from the trademark songs abound, and his own
orchestrations are further evidence of that and wit. I'd be on Santa's
naughty list if I gave away the punch lines and inside jokes, but I
think if you love or hate the original articles, you'll have a good
time. This is camp, but camp with brains.
The Liberace and Bing Crosby bits aren't as strong as the others and our
Bing works gamely but doesn't sound much like the star. But you can't
get everything you want for Christmas. I'm feeling merry enough with
most of this CD and it even has a surprisingly touching moment near the
end, thanks in part to the acting of Dustin Strong. The finale probably
goes on too long, but I think that's sort of the point. You'll find out
a lot more from the show's website www.judyschristmas.com. If this kind
of material is your cup of egg nog, I think you'll find yourself
laughing out loud a lot - with a hearty ho, ho, ho.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night of music. Where the
treetops glisten, and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow,
I'll be listening for you as well.
-- Rob Lester