A Joyful Feeling in Neil Berg’s “Broadway Holiday Show”
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Whether you have been “naughty or nice,” Neil Berg’s spirited, joyful show at the Geffen is a gift! Berg has assembled some of Broadway’s finest talent in this show. The five performers of three men and two women have been the leads in some of the best Broadway shows as “Le Miz,” “Cats,” “Phantom,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “titanic,” 9 to 5,” and many more. The stage was set for the holidays with three beautiful, big Douglas Fir trees, wrapped gifts, sparkling lights, and a Chanukah banner. The ever-changing background montage of colorful images set the scenes for the songs. The voices are incredible, and coupled with the superb acting talents of Tony nominees, and Ovation winners, this is a very special musical not to be missed. Move over Scrooge.
The cast features Carter Calvert (of “Cats”) who shared her success story I her patter. Calvert had auditioned for an understudy role in “Cats”. Her agent told her she did not get the part. But, better, she got the lead of Grizabella in the National Tour of “Cats” and never had to accept another check from her grandmother. This effervescent singer-comedienne originated her role in the Tony nominated “It Ain’t Nothin But The Blues” on Broadway and has been wowing audiences ever since. Calvert shines in her signature song, “Memory” and owns the song totally. Though I have heard “Memory” many times, I have not heard it done so soulfully. She captures all the nuances and feelings.
Jeffry Denman is the song and dance man. He was nominated for an L. A. Ovation Award for Best Actor in a Musical for “On Your Toes” (L. A. Reprise). Denman stands out in “Singing in the Rain” with some awesome tap dancing. He captures the grace of Gene Kelly in this famous number complete with the twirling umbrella and original choreography that Kelly did in the MGM movie. He and Marc Kusdisch are a hysterically funny duo in “Oh Hanukah; Oh Christmas” in which both vie for attention. They go to great lengths to outdo each other. Kudisch has sung with The New York City Opera and has performed in numerous shows as “The Apple Tree,” “Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” etc. I lovedhis sense of humor in “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and his characterization as he donned a Hanukah Menorah hat and sang, “Lonely Jew” was priceless. His interpretation of “Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof” was another stand out. He is the Hamish performer.
Ivan Rutherford has performed the lead role of Jean Valjean in “Le Miz” on Broadway over 2,000 times. He does an emotionally stirring “bring Him Home.” Rutherford’s young son was cast in the role of the young man and Rutherford had sung to him. I was brimful as he sang. He has an incredible tenor range with a lovely falsetto voice.
Calvert closes Act 1 with her show stopping, “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” What a set of pipes this bubbly gal has! Calvert and Rita Harvey, a beautiful blonde with an amazing soprano voice, do a powerfully biting “cell Block Tango” from “Chicago,” and the men join them. Harvey’s enchanting, vibrant soprano voice is clear as a bell in “Think of Me” and mesmerizes as Christine in “Phantom of the Opera.” She is married to Neil Berg.
Berg knows how to put a show together and balances sentimental songs with humorous songs and the full out show stoppers. He creates a nice variety in his musical choices and his pacing of the show is perfect…except, I wish it had been longer because I loved it! Each of the cast does numbers so well suited for their voices and talents. And, there is a nice mix of solos, duos and full cast numbers. Through their patter and stories, the performers make a real connection with the audience. Berg creates a feeling of intimate theatre.
All seemed to be having such a good time and so were we. The standing ovation was heartfelt and what a great way to celebrate the holiday season! Neil Berg’s show really gives us the best of Broadway. It is a wonderful gift to give to a friend or loved one. “And, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (or New Year) Now.”
Neil Berg’s “Broadway Holiday Show” runs at the Geffen Playhouse at 10886 Le Conte in Westwood through January 2nd. For tickets and show times, call 310-208-5454.
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress, and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution Services” commercial, VHS “Tough Love 2,” Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” two “Little Caesars” spots, and she teaches On Camera Workshops and Improv classes at Beverly Hills Adult School. For her classes, call 310-551-5150 or on line at www.bhas.bhusd.org