Review: THE QUEEN'S CARTOONISTS'S HOLIDAY HURRAH at Smothers Theatre

Swanky, silly, exquisitely polished jazz show with vintage cartoons is dazzling for the holidays

By: Dec. 08, 2023
Review: THE QUEEN'S CARTOONISTS'S HOLIDAY HURRAH at Smothers Theatre
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The Queen's Cartoonists’s swanky, silly, dazzling holiday show Holiday Hurrah was performed at the Smothers Theatre on the Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus on Sunday, Dec. 3, at 5 p.m. 

The Queen’s Cartoonists execute jazz with exquisite polish, verve, cheeky humor, and manic energy, recalling the early days of hot jazz in the 1920s and 30s.  If you are a bit sick of hearing slow, syrupy Christmas ballads, you will find yourself in heaven in this uptempo, lively show.  Holiday Hurrah shines bright and merry with the most vivacious, high-energy of holiday tunes.  Even Tchaikovsky’s iconic Nutcracker music, astoundingly and gloriously, gets the frenetic jazz treatment.

Review: THE QUEEN'S CARTOONISTS'S HOLIDAY HURRAH at Smothers Theatre
The Queen's Cartoonists Holiday Hurrah
at Smothers Theatre
Photo by Ella Coates

The music is utterly dazzling, the cartoons are delightful, and the light-hearted silliness and mumblecore, deadpan humor of the pianist and band leader Dr. Joel Pierson are absolute treasures.  Where else can you see a trumpet player driving around stage on a miniature bicycle wearing a pinwheel hat and banging a bell on his head?  Where else does the entire band wear ugly sweaters, sunglasses, bang noisemakers and blow on kazoos?  You don’t expect to laugh out loud in a polished jazz performance, and I frequently laughed out  loud during Holiday Hurrah .  What an unexpected mash up of silliness, exquisite musicianship, and adorable, delightful, trippy and bizarre cinematic finds from times past (see: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, a science fiction treasure from 1964, which has to be seen to be believed, and regularly appears on lists as the worst film of all time).

The Queen's Cartoonists do cool, polished, rather cerebral jazz.  If you think of jazz as related to the wild bump and grind funk of blues or the smoky heartbreak of legends like Billie Holiday, this is something quite different.  If there are any inherent weaknesses to Holiday Hurrah, it may be in the crystalline finesse and intellectualism of the performances, which rather impressively avoid invoking any real emotion.  This is not a moving or poignant show, but it is gloriously silly, swanky, and hilariously entertaining.

The effect of mingling manic jazz with vintage cartoons is spellbinding.  I could have happily watched and listened to The Queen’s Cartoonists all night, without feeling even the slightest bit restless.  For lovers of vintage animation and jazz, The Queen’s Cartoonists is a delectable treat.  But the unique possibility posed by The Queen’s Cartoonists is that their irreverent pop and verve, their showmanship and their embrace of old cartoons, will delight audience members who perhaps not been able to savor the great pleasures of jazz before.

Review: THE QUEEN'S CARTOONISTS'S HOLIDAY HURRAH at Smothers Theatre
The Queen's Cartoonists band leader and pianist
Dr. Joel Pierson, photo by Ella Coates

The Queen’s Cartoonists may be at times a bit hindered in their showmanship by guest vocalist Tara Lynne Khaler, whose one-note, rather flat voice feels like it is straining to keep up with the more manically fast pieces and to go through the rich range of the entire repertoire.  She simply isn’t able to work at the same level as these musicians, who are, without exception, all virtuosic, especially brilliant pianist Dr. Joel Pierson.  Every one of these jazz musicians could easily be a lead show by themselves, including Greg Hammontree (trumpet, trombone), Mark Phillips (clarinet, soprano saxophone), Drew Pitcher (flute, tenor saxophone), Rossen Nedelchev (drums), and Steve Whipple (bass).

Review: THE QUEEN'S CARTOONISTS'S HOLIDAY HURRAH at Smothers Theatre
Smothers Theatre, Peppderine University, Malibu
photo by Ella Coates

I absolutely love the Lisa Smothers Theatre, which is one of my favorite venues in Los Angeles.  As I mentioned in another review, this theatre bathes you in superb, golden warm, buttery acoustics.  There is comfortable seating, with an innovative architectural design of several hundred seats, but only 15 rows, that makes every seat in the house feel close to the stage.  The Smothers Theatre also happens to be located on the Pepperdine University Malibu campus, considered one of the most beautiful college campuses in the US. Since parking here for shows starts two hours early, I recommend coming early if you can, sipping some tea or a drink, and just enjoying the bliss of a few hundred secluded acres of rolling Malibu hills with stunning views of the Pacific everywhere you look.

Next up, the Smothers Theatre is hosting quite an exciting season of great theatre and musical performances.  A few things look particularly tempting to me.  Reduced Shakespeare Company in The Complete History of Comedy, the west coast premiere of Vilette (adapted from Charlotte Brontë novel), the magnificently charming classic operetta The Merry Widow, and Trailblazing Women of Country: A Tribute to Patsy, Loretta, and Dolly, are all coming up in the next several months.  You can discover more about these shows and more about the upcoming season, and get tickets, by calling the Lisa Smith Wengler Center for the Arts box office at (310) 506-4522 or by clicking the button below:




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