Home for the Holidays
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Theater review by Adam Feldman
“Please be advised that Home for the Holidays contains haze effects,” warns a sign at the August Wilson Theatre, and boy, does it ever. First there is the hazy concept. This tacky pop-up Broadway concert, the yuletide equivalent of a Halloween costume store, features a comically motley cast: Candice Glover, Josh Kaufman and Bianca Ryan, three winners of televised vocal contests; Kaitlyn Bristowe, one of two bachelorettes on season 11 of The Bachelorette; Peter and Evynne Hollens, a married a cappella duo; and, somehow, veteran character actor Danny Aiello. Then there is the hazy singing: breathy, baroquely melismatic ornamentations, as though the vocalists were skating on thin ice and afraid to stay on a single note for more than a quarter of a second. And then there are the hazy stories. “I don’t know if this really happened or was one of many dreams I had as a little boy,” says Aiello, recalling a 1945 encounter with Christmas bells. “Either way, it is a memory I will treasure my entire life.”
Home for the Holidays is unlikely to remind you much of home, unless you were raised in a department-store elevator. On a set decorated with abstract, segmented white Christmas trees (which, as lighted, often look diseased), the singers trudge through medleys of chestnuts old and new, their faces sometimes shining with fake sincerity but mostly betraying a sense of talented paid entertainers counting down the 80 minutes of their gig at a corporate holiday party. There are moments of pleasure: Glover’s full-throated solo of the Faith Hill hit “Where Are You, Christmas?” wakes the audience, as does her climactic disco version of “Joy to the World”; the mild-mannered Kaufman, dressed like an assistant vice principal at prom, occasionally flashes some vocal soul. Mostly, though, it’s a clumsy affair whose religiose lip service to the virtues of simplicity and sacrifice harmonizes poorly with its $99–$299 tourist-trap pricing. (On the night I attended, when Peter Hollens sang an original song—“Why can’t we just hold on to silent nights, holy nights and angels singing lullabies?”—a baby understandably started crying.) Bristowe, who is featured in the show for approximately four minutes, says that being on Broadway “feels like a Christmas miracle,” which rather seems like lowering the bar. Looking out on a sea of glum and bored faces at the end of the show, she gamely asks, “Are we in the holiday spirit or what?” The only honest response is: What?
August Wilson Theatre (Broadway). Directed by Jonathan Tessero. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 20mins. No intermission. Through Dec 30.