Even if it weren’t for a pandemic, watching Asolo Rep’s production of We Need a Little Christmas would be entertaining. But given the blank months for live theater we’ve faced since last spring, it’s something of a godsend.
This is the first outdoor production presented on the company’s new Terrace Stage, with distanced, limited seating, required face masks for audience members, temperature checks upon entry, and, on opening night, a bit of a chill in the air. But there was a feeling that nobody really minded all that as they had the chance to finally welcome in the holidays with some musical cheer.
The title for the show, of course, springs from Jerry Herman’s famed musical Mame, where the song raised the characters’ spirits after the financial crash of almost a century ago. Conceived by Michael Donald Edwards and Celine Rosenthal, with music director and arranger Steve Orich and emcee Matt McGee (well-known for his drag performances, which here include impersonations of Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand), this show brings together a smart mix of Broadway tunes, standards from the American songbook, a few lesser-known numbers and a traditional carol or two.
They’re performed by a cast of five, occasionally altogether (and spaced out) onstage, but often in solos or duets. Frequent Asolo director Peter Amster makes his local acting debut here, and Eileen B. Lymus is also a fresh voice onstage. Jenny Kim-Godfrey, a classically trained singer who’s performed with choral ensembles and opera companies, may be familiar to some viewers. But McGee and Ann Morrison are the most frequent Asolo performers here.
In some cases, the numbers are performed pretty much straight, as in Kim-Godfrey’s rendition of “O, Holy Night” or “Christmas Waltz,” or a duet by Morrison and McGee (as Streisand) of a famed Judy Garland/Streisand pairing on “Get Happy” and “Happy Days Are Here Again,” an emotional highlight. Other times, the show plays around a bit with revised lyrics to hits, as with “Baby, It’s Covid Outside” or a version of The Music Man’s “Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little” that references our current situation with “Sip a Little, Zoom a Little” replacement, featuring fake cocktails and a huge Zoom meeting screen appearing on the exterior walls of the theater.
Those projections, by Aaron Rhyne and Kevan Loney, with lighting by Ethan Vail, contribute a lot to the overall impact of the production, making it festive (as with images of Christmas decor). But the production also gets by just fine with simpler moments, as when Morrison slinks her way around a chair purring “Santa Baby” or tells the humorous story in song, “I Was Raised by Elves.”
Amster’s a pleasant presence crooning “White Christmas” or “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays,” McGee transitions smoothly between campy jokes and more sentimental moments, and Lymus delivers strongly on, among other numbers, an “All Purpose Carol” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” all backed ably by Orich and his small orchestra. There’s a surprise or two (a nice one with the rousing performance of Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Light One Candle,” for example) and the not unexpected but certainly welcome rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” with some rewritten lyrics.
If you’re in need of a little Christmas, this outdoor Asolo Rep show provides it, through Jan. 3. For tickets, go to asolorep.org.