The Phoenix Theatre's annual holiday variety show acknowledges the profound loneliness that many people feel during this season of ramped-up expectations. But it also takes us through that loneliness to the humor and exhilaration on the other side.
In one selection, Dave Ruark sings “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen as if alone in a church pew while behind him the four women from the ensemble sing the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s Messiah. I wasn’t the only one weeping by the end of this blend.
Yet a perfectly chosen humorous piece follows that. And then the entire ensemble kneels on the floor singing Fain and Cahn's “You Can Fly” while Rob Johansen performs jaw-dropping acrobatics suspended from a long piece of cloth attached to the ceiling.
And those are just a few of the delights on offer in A Very Phoenix Xmas 9: Flashing Through the Snow, directed by Bryan Fonseca and "curated" by Fonseca and Phoenix playwright-in-residence Tom Horan. Tim Brickley and Brent Marty are co-musical directors and arrangers. Mariel Greenlee is the show’s very cool choreographer.
What I love most about this year’s mix of singing, dancing, comedy and drama is how adroitly it honors the fact that while Christmas is a shared cultural experience, each person’s experience of it is unique, and unique each year. In between the collaborative pieces of the show, each of the seven ensemble members briefly shares a holiday memory from his or her own life.
The ensemble, or “pack,” in the show's parlance, includes Olivia Huntley, Rob Johansen, Carly Kincannon, Ryan O’Shea, Dave Ruark, Lincoln Slentz and Arianne Villareal. Each brings something special yet also works well with the others.
The show includes one short hilarious play each by Eric Pfeffinger, Matt Hoverman, Seth Freeman, Daniel Guyton and Patrick Gabridge. The final piece, by Mark Harvey Levine, is a mind-boggling mash-up of musical theatre and TV.