|John Brancy, Theo Hoffman, Judy Kaye, Joshua Breitzer, Lauren Worsham, Joshua Jeremiah|
The program opened with the gleeful "God Bless the Christmas Jews" by Levitsky/Miller performed by well-known Broadway star Judy Kaye and operatic baritone Joshua Jeremiah who got right into the mood with none of the affectations heard in most crossover performances. It was just a funny song delivered with personality and wit. If that song was the funniest, the most serious one was baritone John Brancy's deeply felt "O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam, a composer Mr. Blier pronounced Jewish with some rather tenuous evidence. No matter. Mr. Brancy sang it in English and then in French. We have never heard Mr. Brancy sing anything without total commitment to the text; we were deeply moved. His delivery of Walter Kent/Kim Gannon's "I'll Be Home or Christmas" was no less involved, coming as it did from Mr. Brancy's warm heart.
Lauren Worsham's light silvery soprano fairly gleamed in Jule Styne/Bob Merrill's "I'm Naïve" and her duet with Mr. Jeremiah (Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from Neptune's Daughter) was charming and finely acted.
Alan Kaye was on hand with his Klezmer clarinet while Cantor Joshua Breitzer performed Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as you've never heard it before. You're probably sick to death of hearing it played in supermarkets and malls since Halloween but if you've never heard it sung in Yiddish, you haven't lived. The audience roared with big belly laughs.
Roy Zimmerman's "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner" was performed by Ms. Worsham and Mr. Breitzer with guitar accompaniment. In a world where everyone brags about their grandmother's cooking it was quite amusing to hear people sing about their fears of being poisoned by their untalented nana.
Ms. Kaye got everyone laughing even harder as she sang David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish"; it was a wish to be rich and powerful and famous--nothing simpler than that! Another giggle-getter was Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith's old chestnut "Winter Wonderland" archly delivered by Mr. Brancy and Mr. Jeremiah. We will never hear that song again the same way!
Baritone Theo Hoffman is at an earlier stage of his career than the rest of the cast; if we didn't tell you that you never would have guessed that he is still a Juilliard undergraduate. His delivery of Mel Tormé's "Christmas Song" was completely professional and polished to a high sheen. It made us want to find a fire and roast some chestnuts. His sincerity eliminated all sense of cliché.
The evening ended with the cast joining together for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas". Indeed, it will probably snow tomorrow but we will be warmed by memories of another marvelous evening spent with NYFOS. We heard songs that were new to us and old chestnuts that were given new imaginative life. YAY!
ⓒ meche kroop