Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's reviews of A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Story
The performers for this holiday concert all have connections to Phoenix or Phoenix Theatre Company, many having appeared in numerous past musical productions at the theatre including husband and wife Mark and Lynzee 4Man, two of the owners of Brock Pro Entertainment. Mark serves as the musical director and Lynzee performs and also provides the fun and tightly in synch choreography.
Walter Belcher, Alyssa Chiarello, Lynzee 4man, Alexandra Ncube, and Sam Primack each get many chances to shine, including delivering several impressive vocal solos. The band features Mark 4man conducting and also on keys, with Toby Yatso (keys), Daniel "Cheesy" Johnson (guitar), Dan Stotz (bass), and Alex Lee (drums). Mark 4man also provides many of the arrangements for more than two dozen songs, and they are all as polished and impressive as the production.
The band kicks the evening off with a fun, new version of "Linus and Lucy" before the ensemble of performers hits the stage to proclaim "We Need a Little Christmas," which was originally written for the musical Mame but almost instantly became a holiday classic. A medley of two songs from another musical, White Christmas, follows, featuring "Happy Holidays" and "Let Yourself Go," which Walter Belcher and Sam Primack deliver with energetic vocals and some fancy footwork. Belcher has appeared in numerous Phoenix Theatre shows, including the recent productions of The Scottsboro Boys and Chicago, while Primack was recently in the company's production of Newsies before playing the lead role of Evan Hansen in Dear Evan Hansen, first as the understudy on Broadway and then as the alternate in the national tour, until the tour was shut down last March due to COVID.
Belcher's solo of the introspective "Mary, Did You Know?" hits some impressive high notes. Hanukkah and Kwanzaa get shout outs in solo numbers before 4man's excellent arrangement of "Carol of the Bells," which begins as an instrumental piece before it explodes into a symphony of well-arranged vocal harmonies. Alyssa Chiarello delivers a knock-out version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" that is sexy, flirty and feisty; it made me think of what Eartha Kitt would sound like singing that tune. Chiarello, Lynzee 4man and Alexandra Ncube form a fierce trio on the Weather Girls' holiday hit, "Dear Santa, Bring Me a Man." Chiarello has been a staple at Phoenix Theatre over the last several seasons in close to a dozen shows, including playing the lead in Evita, Anita in West Side Story, and Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. 4man has been featured in numerous Phoenix Theatre productions, including Chicago, In the Heights, and Godspell, and Ncube is a Phoenix resident who played Nabulungi in the first national tour and the West End production of The Book of Mormon. All three women are gifted performers and vocalists.
Other highlights in the show include Primack's superb version of Adam Sandler's hilarious "The Chanukah Song" and Ncube's delivery of "All I Want for Christmas Is You," which is gorgeously sung. There is also a fun audience singalong of a few well-known holiday favorites, plus a medley of three songs from Frozen and Frozen II that receives an excellent arrangement and marvelous vocals. This includes Chiarello and Ncube delivering a lovely duet of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman" that is followed by 4man's soaring take on the Oscar-winning "Let It Go" before Primack shows off his impressive high notes on "Into the Unknown."
Robert Kolby Harper's direction and musical staging are impressive and polished. Dave Temby's sound design ensures every note of the singers and the band are crystal clear, and Kristen Peterson's lighting adds warmth and depth to the stage imagery. Daniel "Cheesy" Johnson not only plays the guitar in the band, and is also a co-owner of Brock Pro, but he also created all of the impressive video designs for the show, which are projected on a large video screen behind the stage and are a combination of holiday images, fun cartoon segments, and some stunningly gorgeous moving landscapes. The band is as impressive as the overall production and, while not every member of the band gets a solo, Yatso has a brief keyboard solo on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and Johnson's guitar solo during "O Holy Night" rocks.
With temperatures in the evening in Phoenix dropping into the 50s, the beautiful outdoor setting of the large courtyard of the Central United Methodist Church, which is located directly on the north side of Phoenix Theatre's parking lot, is a perfect venue to get in the holiday spirit, while also ensuring safety measurements are easy to follow. The low temps may make things a tad chilly, but the terrific vocals and striking musical notes heard in Unwrapped: An Original Christmas Revue will warm the heart of even the most Grinchiest of individuals.
Unwrapped: An Original Christmas Revue runs through December 23, 2020, at The Phoenix Theatre Company's outdoor stage at Central United Methodist Church, located on the north side of the Phoenix Theatre's parking lot, at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling 602-254-2151.
Director/Musical Staging: Robert Kolby Harper