Who needs the star atop the Christmas tree when you can have three stars center-stage? (Company), Austin Colby (Crossing and Spin) and Maria Egler (Crossing) commanded the stage at the ARK at the Signature Theatre on Tuesday night, delivering a cabaret-style holiday performance that—true to its name—decked the halls and ‘fa la la la-ed’ into our hearts with our favorite songs of the holiday season, with, of course, a few unexpected surprises along the way.
With a Christmas tree complete with an abundance of presents and a fireplace stage left and a baby grand piano stage right played soulfully by Signature Theatre’s Music Director/Arranger/Pianist Howard Breitbart, these three bona fide talents brought together the very best of the Christmas season to share with a theatre-full of eager patrons. As its fourth anniversary holiday show, Signature Theatre has perfected a holiday recipe that made this year’s Holiday Follies feel like it’s been years in the making.
Opening the night strong with a medley of “Sleigh Ride” and “Jingle Bells,” the three performers got the audience right into the holiday mood. Throughout the night, they performed a number of upbeat group numbers including “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and a medley of “Silent Night” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?” arranged by musical director Howard Breitbart. The arrangements highlighted both the power in each individual voice, while also demonstrating how powerful the three voices are in unison. The way in which each performer harmonized with one another, along with the backdrop of guitar, piano, and drums really did showcase how Breitbart “tuned that piano to the tune of glee”—effortlessly texturing and blending familiar tunes together and delivering instant favorites.
Each one of the performers were stars in their own right, and each deserves special attention for the caliber of their performances last night.
Austin Colby opened the show with “Marshmallow World,” and his cover of this classic showcased how the timbre of his voice is capable of both deep, booming melodies and a lush, high falsetto. Not only does Colby have a gorgeous voice, but the range of genres he can master is also impressive. Performing the fast-paced rock Christmas song from The Nightmare Before Christmas and a Kander and Ebb song written during their first year as a songwriting team entitled “I’m Gonna Be An Angel,” Colby blends the best of the musical theatre genre with a slightly more commercial appeal. I don’t think it would be a stretch at all to call Colby a slightly more youthful version of Michael Buble, complete with an infectious, boyish charm.
Madeline Botteri was similarly impressive. One of the standout moments of the evening was a duet she sang with guitarist Steven Walker entitled “Audrey Turn the Moon” by Kelly Joe Phelps. The song—which felt like a mix between a folk song and a jazz standard—underscored how her voice harmonized beautifully with the acoustic guitar and piano, a trait that she carried throughout the evening. With an impeccable stage presence and likability, she was able to maneuver some of the trickiest holiday classics with ease and grace.
The master class performer of the evening was, hands-down, Maria Egler. From the moment she walked on the stage, she screamed star quality, reminiscent to me of a Megan Hilty or Heidi Blickenstaff. At times, when she belted (which was often), it’s hard not to compare her voice with the precise vocals of a pop singer like Kelly Clarkson. Her voice is simply beyond, and she commands the audience’s attention fiercely like an astonishing star. One of the standout performances of the evening was her rendition of David Friedman’s “My Simple Christmas Wish,” where she masterfully satirizes a stuck-up diva wanting to be “rich, famous and powerful” while still managing to belt out the song, finishing with a finale note that left me with goose bumps. Brava!
As a Broadway fanatic, the Broadway medley Director Walter Ware III conceived of was simply divine. Botteri began with a hilarious rendition of “Lovers on Christmas Eve” from I Love My Wife, followed by a touching performance of “Three Wishes for Christmas” from Gypsy by Colby. The medley finale was performed by Egler, in which she performed Jerry Herman’s iconic song “We Need a Little Christmas” from Mame, a show in which she proclaimed she would be starring in one day. I don’t doubt it. But, at least for now until December 23rd, these bright stars of the stage will be at the ARK at Signature Theatre, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on this joyous celebration of the finest that the holiday season songbook has to offer.
Running Time: Approximately one hour, with no intermission.