BWW Review: Former American Idol Rivals Bring Holiday Cheer in RUBEN & CLAY'S FIRST ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CAROL FAMILY FUN PAGEANT SPECTACULAR REUNION SHOW
It was fifteen years ago when over forty million people tuned into the season two finale of "American Idol" to see Ruben Studdard win the crown over runner-up Clay Aiken. This reviewer wasn't one of them. And aside from Aiken's stint on Broadway as a replacement in SPAMALOT, he'll admit to not having paid much attention to the careers of the two vocalists. But, based on the enjoyable antics now on display at the Imperial titled RUBEN & CLAY'S FIRST ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CAROL FAMILY FUN PAGEANT SPECTACULAR REUNION SHOW, the fellows have definitely found an interested viewer if they ever hosted a television variety program.
TV variety is the inspiration for this sweet and sincere, modestly-produced entertainment, where the stars are presented as a sort of Donny & Marie/Sonny & Cher comedy pair, with writers Ken Arpino and Jessie Joyce supplying lighthearted jokes about their rivalry (A running gag has top billing on the show's logo changing every time one scores a victory over the other.) and variations on old chestnuts about ugly holiday sweaters and having to pay a penalty whenever your language slips into something beyond family-friendly boundaries.
Arpino is part of the talented ensemble of singers jazzing up the proceedings, including Broadway vet Farah Alvin and newcomers Julian Diaz Granados, La'Nette Wallace and Khaila Wilcoxon. Despite the show's "American Idol" pedigree, the style here is enthused musical comedy belting and everyone gets a moment or two to shine.
Directed by Jonathan Tessero, the tone is set with a very funny opening sequence that has the stars, while trying to emote serious renditions of "Silent Night" and "Come All Ye Faithful," also trying to out-Broadway each other with their visuals. Other comedy bits include a "Laugh-In" style joke wall featuring punch lines about "low elf-esteem" and Frosty having a meltdown, and an audience member interview that results in a Mad-Libs rendition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." At Sunday afternoon's performance, the cast seemed especially tickled when having to sing "eleven monkeys squirting."
Aiken is the more energized star, merrily diving into song and dance routines, hitting money notes with power and displaying a fine knack for comedy. Studdard is low-key, though sometimes to the extreme (the bit about him using an onstage toilet has to go), but he's definitely in his element when alone on stage, beautifully crooning in his soft r&b style.
The second act opens with a video about the National Inclusion Project, a non-profit benefitting autistic child which was co-founded by Aiken in 2003 and is the recipient of part of the production's proceeds. In the next-to-closing spot, both fellows share personal stories with the audience about their families, what Christmas meant to them while growing up and the paths that led them to this Broadway show.
RUBEN & CLAY'S FIRST ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CAROL FAMILY FUN PAGEANT SPECTACULAR REUNION SHOW doesn't claim to be sophisticated or flashy Broadway entertainment, but it's sincere and pleasant and just may set your heart all aglow for a couple of hours.