|Thomas West, Lauren Worsham, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Joshua Jeremiah, Alex Mansoori, Mikaela Bennett, Donna Breitzer, Joshua Breitzer|
Every year we initiate the holiday season with a trip uptown to Henry's Restaurant for NYFOS After Hours in a very special evening of "Yuletide Songs by Jewish Composers". The eponymous Henry has a warm welcome for the mostly Upper West Side audience who gather for some yuletide bonhomie. He spoke of inclusivity in this cross-cultural celebration of Christmas from the Jewish point of view.
The song that most exemplifies this aspect is "Candle in My Window" by Levitsky/Miller, hilariously performed by Joshua Jeremiah. Like most of the songs, it is tuneful and has highly clever lyrics that keep the audience in stitches with self-recognition.
Another very funny song was "My Simple Christmas Wish" by David Friedman, broadly performed by Alex Mansoori. "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner" by Roy Zimmerman was given an adorable performance by Joshua Breitzer and Lauren Worsham.
"Winter Wonderland" by Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith is not inherently funny, but when sung by two male lovebirds (Mr. Mansoori and Mr. Jeremiah, accompanied by clarinetist Alan Kay, it became campy and funny. (In ten years, it probably won't be funny as audiences get more accustomed to homosexual marriage.)
A lot of the humor was Yiddish and we got the drift, even if we didn't understand the words. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" never struck us as hilarious but there is something about the language that made us laugh, especially as sung by Mr. Breitzer, accompanied by Mr. Kay on the clarinet--the minor key Klezmer style riffs counterposed against the funny tale made it even funnier.
"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser was translated into fractured Yiddish by one Binyumen Schachter and performed by Donna and Joshua Breitzer and we really wanted to understand how he was trying to get her to stay and what kind of excuses she was making. Those who understood the lyrics had a distinct advantage, but just looking at the facial expressions and body language was funny. Steven Blier at the piano filled us in on some very funny details about the composer and his wife whom he called "the evil of two Loessers". We do so enjoy a good pun!
Not all the songs were funny. We enjoyed a very special moment when Mikaela Bennett sang "O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam--in English and in French. It is not a song that generally brings tears to our eyes but there was something about the timbre of her voice and the phrasing that affected us deeply.
This versatile artist can do a fine torch song, as evidenced by her delivery of Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve".
Amanda Lynn Bottoms was superb in "The Christmas Song" by Mel Tormé--also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and we also enjoyed her fine delivery of "Let it Snow" by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.
Thomas West excelled in "Silver Bells" from Jay Livingston/Ray Evans' The Lemon Drop Kid. Mr. Blier related that it is the song of an outsider, perhaps a Jew hearing the Salvation Army bells and thinking about all the poor people who couldn't afford to celebrate Christmas.
Composer Andrew Lippa, a neighbor of Mr. Blier's took the stage to sing his own composition "A Little Love" from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
Finally, three cheers for Lauren Worsham's reincarnation of Eartha Kitt singing the delightful "Santa Baby" with the men popping up from behind the low wall at the bar to provide a back-up quartet. We wondered whose idea that was. It was memorable!
The entire cast joined forces for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" with a lovely humming chorus--and an encore of Johnny Marks' "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".
We walked out into the chilly midnight air feeling warmed by the fellowship and the splendid entertainment. We will have to wait another year to hear these songs again but we won't have to wait more than a month for more NYFOS. There will be two concerts in January to warm our heart.
(c) meche kroop