BWW Reviews: AUSTIN HOLIDAY PROJECT Is the Perfect Alternative Christmas Show
I love the holidays and the Central Texas theater scene, but as much as I love adaptations of A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story, there are times when I think of how nice it would be for someone in Austin to do an original Christmas show.
Looks like I got my Christmas wish this year. With The Austin Holiday Project, Austin Theatre Project closes out their first full season with their first original show. While it might not be as flashy or extravagant as other holiday offerings, its phenomenal cast and intimate, personal vibe make it a show to add to your Christmas list.
The original show, conceived and directed by David Blackburn, is blissfully simple. The show features a cast of six female performers, all of whom perform their own mini cabaret set of holiday songs. Though there are a few familiar tunes, there are plenty of unknown ones as well.
Each member of the cast knows exactly what to do with their moment in the spotlight. Some take the introspective look at the holidays. Some take a more comical approach. But no matter what, each performer commands the stage and entertains from beginning to end. Maureen Klein Slabaugh shares some tender moments and thoughts on the holidays, but she truly succeeds on David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish" and Frederick Silver's "The Twelve Days After Christmas," two rib-tickling songs that would get anyone on Santa's naughty list. Michelle Alexander showcases her brassy voice on "All I Want for Christmas is You" but shows some vulnerability and subtlety on other songs like "My Grown-Up Christmas Wish." Haley Smith shows range and versatility by pairing a very comical interpretation of "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses with more understated tunes like "Hard Candy Christmas."
Though I've seen her several times before, I tend to forget that Evelyn LaLonde has a rare mix of soprano voice and comedic chops. Thankfully, LaLonde is more than happy to remind me and the rest of the audience of her versatility. Both her voice and her personality are put to good use on the ode to mood stabilizers, "The Miracle of Christmas," and another wonderfully eccentric tune about leaving out sushi for Santa. LaLonde shares a few duets with fellow performer Becky Knox, and it's no surprise that the beautifully voiced Knox is a music teacher. Her interpretation of the exceedingly difficult Barbara Streisand version of "Jingle Bells" is particularly thrilling and astonishing to hear. Rounding out the cast is Michelle Cheney, one of Austin's most loved musical theater performers. No stranger to the cabaret format, Cheney knocks it out of the park with her infectious personality, her strong voice, and her set of comedic Christmas songs.
Cabaret is without a doubt a challenging and intimidating medium for any performer. There's no character to hide behind and no fourth wall between the performer and the audience. It takes a professional to do a cabaret performance well, and The Austin Holiday Project features some of Austin's best talent. These divas know how to entertain.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission.
THE AUSTIN HOLIDAY PROJECT, produced by Austin Theatre Project, plays the Trinity Street Theatre located inside the First Baptist Church of Austin at 901 Trinity Street (4th Floor), Austin 78701 now thru Sunday, December 22nd. Performances are Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $15-$30. For tickets and information, visit www.austintheatreproject.org.