BWW Review: HOLIDAY CHESTNUTS Showcases Richard Holbrook's Heart at Don't Tell Mama
Richard Holbrook seems like a great guy. If the Rat Pack had a younger, sweeter, more wholesome brother who preferred milkshakes to Scotch and Doris Day to Marilyn Monroe, his name would be Richard Holbrook. At least that is the impression one was most likely to discern during his show HOLIDAY CHESTNUTS last night at Don't Tell Mama. As though the universe was designed to confirm one's suspicions regarding what a lovely man Mr. Holbrook is, The Original Room was filled to capacity - about 70-ish seats. The throng difficult to see through, some particular faces jumped out, and they were the faces of a kind of Who's Who of cabaret, including Bobbie Horowitz, Deborah Stone, Maureen Taylor, and Richard Skipper. Everyone had come out to see the last night of Holbrook's (usually) annual Christmas show. A full house for Christmas is just about the best gift a nightclub performer could ask for.
Yes, this is a man that is, most definitely, loved.
Holiday Chestnuts is a fine example of how to put together a seasonal show. Mr. Holbrook would appear to be someone for whom Christmas is a magical time of year (many are, but, it has to be said, there is a similarly large number of people who rather dislike the holiday season), and it is an acknowledged fact that Christmas music can brighten up life. In a nightclub, though, it can become cloying and sickly sweet, so it must be tempered with a little variety. Mr. Holbrook, clearly a man who has spent enough time in the clubs to know what's good and what goes, brought out some of his favorite holiday tunes in this show. Songs like "The Christmas Waltz" and "Happy Holidays" kept the holiday theme moving for the perfectly timed 75-minute show, as well as some other tunes that might be more obscure, like "The Sound of Christmas" and "It's Always Christmas in New York." Too savvy to let his followers sit in a vat of saccharine, Holbrook also brought along little gifts for his audience that had nothing to do with the holiday season, and everything to do with putting on a show rich with assortment. A well-sung and well-meant "Old Friends" was a wonderful way of welcoming the doting guests and reminding all that a major part of the season is communing with loved ones, while a brilliantly chosen and placed "Confessions of a New Yorker" had the audience howling with glee, making obvious the fact that the room was devoid of tourists and widespread with native (or naturalized) New Yorkers. It is with great care that Mr. Holbrook mapped out this journey for all, taking like chess pieces and placing meticulously the songs into a sequence that would best serve his show and his audience.
Especially effective throughout his night of Yuletide revelry was a series of songs chosen to reflect the wonderment of childhood, when Christmas means the most to us. A medley of "Use Your Imagination/Pure Imagination" was keenly felt by an audience content to go anywhere Holbrook chose to take them on his musical journey of power-backed vocals and astutely managed breath control, while a lovely, lilting rare "Our Town" from a 1950's television musical based on Thornton Wilder was wistful and dreamy. The bold and loving choice to sing "The Place Where Lost Things Go" in remembrance of his mother was a touching moment for all who have a mother that they still dream of. Less effective was a well-intentioned "Giants In The Sky" which Mr. Holbrook might reconsider when making out future setlists, because the concept was more clearly felt than the execution - the song simply requires some elements that Mr. Holbrook might, possibly, have outgrown.
Particularly moving in Richard Holbrook's show last night was a breathtaking performance of the Charles Aznavour story "Quiet Love" and Mr. Holbrook would be well advised to take this number and make it a staple in every show he does. The melodic line fits his dreamy voice like a $300 shoe, while his well-honed acting skills leave the naked eye fully satisfied - it's as though the song was written just to bring out the Holbrook pathos for the benefit of his admirers. It's the kind of moment for a cabaret performer that will have people buying tickets to future shows, hoping that it will be a part of the evening. Like Betty Buckley singing "Memory" or Marilyn Maye singing "It's Today," patrons will pay their dues, take a seat and wait for that moment when they hear the opening strains of "Quiet Love" and know that quintessential Holbrook is about to be the order of the day.
Like the apparent persona of Richard Holbrook, Holiday Chestnuts is best described as a sweet show, full of heart and generosity of spirit. Mr. Holbrook announced, near the end of the act, that he is a cancer survivor, divulging a few details that make clear some questions audience members not in the know might have about his life and his story, and he proclaimed, further, that the monies raised from ticket sales for Holiday Chestnuts would all be given to The Cancer Support Community, a worthy organization championed by Jason Danieley and his late wife, Marin Mazzie.
So Richard Holbrook loves old fashioned Christmas tunes, songs from our childhoods, singing for his friends and fans, and giving money to cancer support charities,
If that's not the definition of a great guy, I just don't know what is.
Learn more about the CANCER SUPPORT COMMUNITY at their Website
Photos by Stephen Mosher