Pure joy and renewed holiday spirit are guaranteed from the opening scene, when Ben Van Diepen, aka Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet,” opens the show with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” with lyrics that incorporate theater rules and reminders (e.g. silence your cell phones), all the way to the final notes of the outstanding rendition of “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” that had the audience clapping and toe tapping. Lamb’s Players Theatre’s world premiere of “Respectfully Christmas” is a celebratory holiday extravaganza which captures the merriment of the season and keeps the audience captivated.
The casts of Lamb’s Players Theatre’s recent musical hits “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and “Million Dollar Quartet” have joined forces for this festive revue of great Christmas tunes, with interesting facts thrown in along the way. Prior to the show, it was fun to see the casts’ childhood photos displayed on the stage curtain. The standout cast features: Angela Avila, Bryan Barbarin, Katherine Chatman, Michael Louis Cusimano, Charles Evans Jr., Steve Gouvcia, Caitie Grady, Sydney Joyner, Leonard Patton, Ben Read, Natasha Reese, David Rumley, Joy Yandell-Hall, and Ben Van Diepen. I have to say, and everyone I talked to agreed, each of the actors gave stellar performances and engaged with the audience and each other throughout the riveting show.
Rather than give away the whole program, I’ll leave some surprises, because I, like the other guests behind me, were not quite sure what to expect. We were wondering if there was a set storyline or just singing. We were not disappointed to find a smorgasbord of Christmas favorites, with a few new melodies that showcased different musical styles from romantic jazz to blues Christmas, complete with Elvis moves, to nostalgic classics and upbeat tunes.
Whether they were dressed in Santa dresses, sequined outfits, suits or holiday sweaters, the actors got everyone in the holiday spirit with outstanding singing, dancing, and instrumentals including piano, guitar, bass, violin, drums and tambourine. From the Beach Boys to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to “The First Noel” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” the evening felt like the very best rendition of the holidays, making it impossible for anyone to leave with a “grinchy” spirit. They included my personal childhood favorite, “Christmas Time is Here,” which debuted in the 1965 Charlie Brown television special I adored as a kid and still love today. Other personal standouts were “Mary, Did You Know?” and “Merry Christmas, Darling” from the 1970s Carpenters duo, along with the familiar “Ukrainian Bell Carol.”
All of the music will speak to your heart, with the show covering timeless songs from way back until today. One delightful selection harkened back to 1945 in “The Christmas Song” by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells and then moved on to 1958, when Brenda Lee recorded the Christmas classic “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” at age 13. We learned that Joni Mitchell contracted polio at age nine and willed herself to walk again, and went on to have an amazing career, which included the holiday song “River.”
My seatmates shared that they thought the show was the perfect balance of fun and serious, and they enjoyed the outstanding vocals, dancing, and incredible piano talent. The connection with the audience was made even stronger because many people had seen both previous productions and felt a familiarity with the cast members, making it all the better.
This magnificent show was created by Kerry Meads and Vanda Eggington, and put on with Producing Artist Director Robert Smyth, Costume Designs by Jemima Dutra, Lighting Designer and Production Team Director Nathan Peirson, Sound Designer Patrick Duffy, and Stage Manager Maria Mangiavellano.
This holiday treat for the whole family is not to be missed before it closes on December 24. Get your tickets soon, because shows are selling out.
Showtimes are Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays at 2 pm and 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 7 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 7 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm.
Tickets are $38, with no service charge, and youth, senior, and military discounts are available. Purchase online, by phone, or at the box office, which is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 6 pm. Visit the Lamb’s Players Theatre website or call 619-437-6000.