Theater Reviews: A RUBICON FAMILY CHRISTMAS, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, A VEGAS HOLIDAY! SONGS FROM LIVE AT THE SAHARA

A Vegas Holiday! Songs From 'Live at the Sahara'
Michael Lamont

GO  A RUBICON FAMILY CHRISTMAS Andy Williams and his fancy sweaters are nowhere to be seen, but the Rubicon company misses little else in this corny Christmas delight. Not a word of dialogue or patter interrupts the flow of holiday music beautifully sung by seasoned professionals Joan Almedilla, Dina Bennett, Teri Bibb, Trey Ellet, Anthony Manough and Brian Sutherland, joined by a chorus of talented children. Act 1 is pure secular Americana, from a Drifters’ version of “White Christmas” to a Judy Garland–worthy “Have Yourself a Merry Little...” to a goofy medley of Santa, Frosty and Rudolph. Act 2 moves into some sacred and emotional numbers, most beautiful being Ellet’s rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Bibb’s astounding soprano “Oh, Holy Night!” Musical Director Gerald Sternbach and his small combo never miss a beat, bringing musical bliss. Brian McDonald’s Currier and Ives– inspired set, perfectly illuminated by Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting, arouse joy to this world of Yuletide fantasy. Rubicon Theater, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 7 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; through Dec. 27. (805) 667-2900. (Tom Provenzano)

GO  THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Geared to the 7-and-under set, this good-natured interactive musical exudes appeal beyond its demographic. Inspired by a German folktale, writers Lloyd Schwartz and Hope Juber’s adaptation features a good fairy named Hyacinth (Mary Garripoli) as the prime mover of events. After she welcomes the audience with a song about the importance of “doin’ good,” along comes a prince (understudy Iain Gray) who sings about “lookin’ good.” His attitude so annoys Hyacinth that she turns him into a frog, stipulating that he can only return to his natural form if kissed by a princess. The story proceeds along more or less traditional lines: The frog recovers the lost ball of a querulous princess (Jenn Wiles) who is reluctant to keep her promise to kiss him until pressured by her father, the king (Anthony Gruppuso). Much of the piece’s charm stems from the delight — and the unintended comedic faux pas — displayed by the youngsters called up on the stage to participate. The non-patronizing performers seem to be enjoying themselves as well. A song “Croak Croak, Ribbit, Ribbit” involving a couple of frog puppets is contagiously entertaining, whatever one’s age. The uncredited costumes are fun, too. Barbara Mallory Schwartz directs, with songs by Hope Jube and musical director Laurence Juber. Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, L.A.; Sat., 1 p.m.; through Feb. 27. (323) 851-7977. A Storybook Theatre production. (Deborah Klugman)

GO  A VEGAS HOLIDAY! SONGS FROM LIVE AT THE SAHARA When Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith first assumed the roles of Louis Prima and Keely Smith in a re-creation of their Las Vegas lounge act from the 1950s, it was a modest production at the Sacred Fools Company in Hollywood, but it won critical kudos and moved on for successful runs at the Matrix Theatre and Geffen Playhouse. Now, they’ve ditched the script, keeping only the songs — a garland of show-stoppers, played by a terrific seven-piece band, each of which gets his moment to shine. Frank Sinatra (Luca Ellis) turns up to contribute suave song-stylings. But Broder and Smith are the real raison d’être. Secure in their roles, they no longer need a script to play out the volatile, supercharged, love-hate relationship between Keely and Louis. He’s manic, stomping and careening around the stage like a demented jumping jack, subversive, hypercompetitive and glittering with resentment. She’s cucumber-cool and restrained but quietly dangerous. And her coolness makes it more electrifying when she cuts loose with a brassy rendition of “That Old Black Magic.” This is a perfect holiday show, slick, scintillating and just snarky enough to provide an antidote to icky-sticky Christmas shows on TV. El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; schedule varies, through January 3. (818) 508-4200, elportaltheatre.com. (Neal Weaver)


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