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That Time of the Year, a CurtainUp holiday show review CurtainUp

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That Time of the Year

Everyone likes to eat fruit
Everyone likes to eat cake
So why is putting them together such a horrible mistake?
---Three Fruitcakes

That Time of the Year is as well-meaning and cheerful as a greeting card, and about as deep. If you’re already sick of holiday jokes or seasonal sentimentality, then the new musical revue at the York Theatre definitely isn’t the show for you. But if you just can’t get enough of Christmas or Hanukkah sentiments, then this series of songs will be as frothy and intoxicating to you as a spiked glass of eggnog.

The hardworking tribute to "the most wonderful time of the year" is the brainchild of lyricists Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman. It contains 26 brand new songs from the pair, who have collaborated with no less than seven different composers. They aim to please everyone, so Jewish, Christian and secular aspects of the season are all emphasized equally. The score, sung by a young and attractive five-person cast, focuses on every conceivable aspect of the holiday season. We therefore hear sung explorations ranging from Christmas lights to dreidls, from Jesus to Judah Macabee, and from latkes to fruitcake. None of the songs or topics overstay their welcome, thankfully and so just when we’re getting tired of "Veronica/Hanukkah" jokes, we move on to fruitcakes.

The variety and inventiveness of the songs keep most of That Time of the Year cute rather than cloying. It's at its best when Holzman and Needleman show off their wit, rather than sentimentality. This holds true for the seven composers, none of whom is distinguishable from the other. Since the songs are melodically generic, they become far more interesting when branching out into other styles such as calypso and country. For example, "Rock 'n' Roll Hanukkah" features two Hasidic Jews (Jonathan Rayson and Nick Verina) hilariously dancing to their own equivalent of "Jingle Bell Rock." "Country Christmas" is a funny number about a girl from Tennessee (Bridget Beirne) who plans to come out to Nashville for Christmas and "come out" to her parents as well.

The more serious numbers are a little less confident. This is partly due to the cast, a talented group of singers and comedians who don’t quite pull off the heavier moments. Take Jonathan Rayson, who is extremely funny in a number called "Angelo Rosenbaum" about an Italian Catholic Jew, but is less convincing as an aged Holocaust survivor in "Candles in the Window." which is more awkward than moving,. Perhaps casting at least one older performer would have helped. On the other hand, you couldn’t ask for three funnier fruitcakes than Beirne, Kerri Jill Garbis and Erin Maguire.

Annette Jolles' old-fashioned showbizzy staging highlights the comedy and clarity of the score. However, Jolles does little to bring weight to serious moments or counteract the sometimes treacly lyrics of songs like "Christmastime", a plea for holiday kindness and generosity, or "Underneath the Mistletoe", a heartfelt but generic holiday love duet.

You know what sort of show you'll be seeing as soon as you take in James Morgan's stage design: the entire stage is gift-wrapped with a giant bow above the set, and piles of ribboned presents in the center and on either side of the stage. If the wrappings and trimmings of this particular Christmas present are sometimes more attractive than what’s inside, at least it's still a very pretty picture to look at.

Concept and Lyrics: Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman
Music: Sanford Marc Cohen, Nicholas Levin, Donald Oliver, Kyle Rosen, Brad Ross, Mark Wherry, and Wendy Wilf
Directed by Annette Jolles
Cast: Bridget Beirne, Kerri Jill Garbis, Erin Maguire, Jonathan Rayson, Nick Verina
Set Design: James Morgan
Costume Design: Terese Wadden
Lighting Design: Chris Robinson

Running time: 2 hours, includes one intermission
York Theatre, Theatre at St. Peters, 54th Street and Lexington Avenue, 212-935-5820; www.yorktheatre.org
From 11/29/06 to 12/24/06; opening 12/7/06
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2:30 and 8pm; Sun @ 2:30 and 7pm
Tickets: $49, with student tickets for $20 available at the box office
Reviewed by Julia Furay based on December 3rd performance.

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • That Time of the Year/ All
  • Angelo Rosenbaum/ Jonathan
  • Stay Home Tonight/ Kerri
  • Rock 'n' Roll Hanukkah/ Nick & Jonathan
  • Little Colored Lights / Erin
  • God Only Knows/ Robert
  • Country Christmas/ Bridget
  • That Time of Year (Reprise)/ Kerri
  • People With Obligations/ All
  • You’re the Reason Why/ Jonathan
  • Mama’s Latkes/ Kerri
  • Husbands’ Blues/ Nick & Jonathan
  • That Time of the Year (Reprise)/ Erin
  • Welcome/ Bridget
  • Judah Maccabee/ All
Act Two
  • Calypso Christmas/ Kerri & the Cast
  • They All Come Home / Erin
  • Time for a Spin/ Nick
  • Underneath the Mistletoe/ Bridget & Jonathan
  • Wong Ho’s China Garden/ Kerri & Nick
  • Christmastime/ Bridget with Kerri & Erin
  • That Time of the Year (Reprise)/ Kerri, Erin & Bridget
  • Candles in the Window/ Jonathan
  • It’s Everywhere/ Erin & the Guys
  • Veronica/ Nick
  • Holiday Lament(The Fruitcake Song)/ Kerri, Erin & Bridget
  • Miracles Can Happen/ All
  • That Time of the Year/ All
  • What Are We Gonna Do?. . . / All
  • That Time of the Year (Reprise)/ All
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