That Time of the Year
nytheatre.com review by David Hilder
December 4, 2006
It's puzzling that York Theatre Company, one of the very few companies devoted to producing new musicals, has chosen to celebrate the holiday season with That Time of the Year, which has been circulating throughout New York's cabaret scene for the last ten years. While there may well be some new material in this iteration of the show, and while it is certainly receiving a handsome production, the evening itself is much more ho-hum than ho-ho-ho.
Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman, a pair of Kleban Award-winning wordsmiths, have written lyrics to some two dozen holiday-themed songs, which are presented here in revue format—no story, simply a collection of songs ranging from ballads to comedy songs, solos to duets to company numbers. Holiday songs, though, are something like a rich dessert: A little can go a very long way. The point is proven in That Time of the Year, where ideas are repeated over and over, the jokes are familiar, and the tears brought to the eye from a ballad are as likely to be from a stifled yawn as from an emotional reaction. There's very little wit at work here. The song "Angelo Rosenbaum" essentially gives away the punch line in its title; "Veronica" seems to have nothing on its mind beyond proving that "Veronica" rhymes with "Hanukkah"; "Little Colored Lights" is ridiculously simplistic. "People With Obligations" gets a few laughs, and "They All Come Home" is one of the few ballads that succeed in performance. But considering the show is designed to showcase the words, those words are surprisingly uninteresting most of the time.
The cast—curiously, all white—is nearly as bland as the material it is given. The women include Erin Maguire, a pencil-thin redhead who is asked to sing a song about holiday season weight-gain that is patently ludicrous coming from her lithe frame; Kerri Jill Garbis, who apparently cannot not smile on stage, even when singing about how much she misses her dead mother; and Bridget Beirne, strongest of voice of the three, but just as prone to a soft-eyed non-focus for the many ballads she sings. The men fare better. Nick Verina has a nice presence and a strong voice. And Jonathan Rayson is genuinely impressive—he has a dynamite voice, and offers the most individualized work in the many songs he has to work with.
Director/choreographer Annette Jolles cannot avoid a certain sameness through the evening, though she does what she can. Musical director Annie Pasqua is a lively presence on the piano. Best of all are James Morgan's white-and-gold set and Chris Robinson's splendid lighting, which lend the affair an elegance it never quite earns.
The York is to be commended for its long history of excellent work, as its 2006 special Drama Desk Award attests; That Time of the Year is an overly safe and sugary misstep, but hopefully the company will bounce back after the holidays, and this revue, are behind us.