The scene was a cozy cabaret at Signature Theatre. The enthralled patrons sat at small, circular, red tables and swayed to “Give Love on Christmas Day” performed by The Motown Three, which consisted of Music Director Mark G. Meadows, and singers Jade Jones and Shayla S. Simmons. The show, A Motown Christmas, featured songs that have been popularized by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Berry Gordy, and Donny Hathaway.
Meadows conceived of and built the song list for A Motown Christmas. Meadows, who played the piano in the show, was accompanied by Eliot Seppa on bass, Dante’ Pope on drums, DeAnte Haggerty-Willis on guitar, and the excellent Elijah Jamal Balbed, who punched up songs like “Santa Baby” and “My Favorite Things” with his jazzy saxophone play.
Simmons appeared elegant in her silver, sequined dress, and her lush vocals elevated tunes such as “This Christmas” (written by Hathaway), “The Christmas Song,” and “Dancing in the Street” (written by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson, and Ivy Jo Hunter). Simmons has appeared at Signature before in Dreamgirls, and has toured nationally with Winnie the Pooh, and internationally with Golden Gospel Singers.
Jones, who has appeared in Signature’s Elmer Gantry and Motown: The Reprise, was dynamite in Tommie Connor’s “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” She brought romantic flair to Joan Javits and Philip Springer’s “Santa Baby.” She energetically bounced and swayed as she sang her tunes.
Simmons and Jones performed as a duet in tunes such as “Sleigh Ride” and Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” which they sang during a socially-conscious section of the show, that also featured Wonder’s “Living for the City.” They both did a masterful job introducing many of the songs with playful, verbal segues e.g. Jones’ line: “I’m looking for a Santa baby” and Simmons’ gag about the mother in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” wanting to try something new.
Meadows, who has musically directed shows like Soul Divas and Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Signature, wonderfully performed a gorgeous, but not well-known tune, “Purple Snowflakes,” written by Gaye, Clarence Paul, and David Hamilton. His piano work and vocals were flawless.
Meadows, Simmons and Jones tripled teamed to exuberant effect on “Up on the House Top,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “The Little Drummer Boy” (by Katherine Kennicott Davis), which featured Pope’s dynamic drums.
The small stage, dressed in black curtains and red, ceiling-hanging orbs, was lit effectively by Lighting Designer Jonathan Maag. There were no audio hiccups or screeches, thanks to Sound Mixer Madeline Clamp.
A Motown Christmas features a mixture of Christmas standards and heavy-hitting songs like Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” that will gratify audiences. This short, but musically-packed show is a delightful way to spend an evening during this holiday season.
Running time: About 75 minutes with no intermission