Even those who treat holiday cheer as a seasonal tyranny have to admire the pluck of the three Broadway princesses – Laura Osnes, Susan Egan and Courtney Reed (who portrayed Ella in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and Princess Jasmine in Aladdin, respectively) – who are continuing the tradition of the Broadway Princess Holiday Party, whose sixth annual concert at Feinstein’s 54 Below debuts tonight….virtually.
In the five years since the first such concert at the Broadway supper club, the Broadway Princess Party has proved so popular it became a touring concert in cities throughout America, a brand, a corporation, a talent search, even a program in the Girl Scouts.
Unable to hold the annual event in the normal way this year, they filmed it at the club in November without an audience, and are selling tickets to the 75-minute online video, which will be available on demand through December 26, for $28.50.
It is the first of a new streaming series of concerts the club is calling 54 Below Premieres, which they promise to be “cinematic” in the technical quality of the videos.
Such an approach probably cannot be a universal substitute in the theater world for the cheaper and more convenient Zoom. But I wondered whether a recorded video could work at all for a holiday cabaret show, whose appeal more than most entertainments resides in the audience’s sense of intimacy and community with the performers.
So, although I was reluctant to “unleash your inner princess” (in the words of Benjamin Rauhala, the musical director, pianist and MC of the show,) I was curious enough to accept the invitation to review.
First off, yes, the quality of the video is a respite from Zoom fatigue, especially if you play it on the largest screen you possess. (But note to producers: Please commit to inclusion by adding the option of captions.)
The producers are also promising a live chat for fans to interact with each other before and during the show.
I can’t say the song list offers many surprises (see below.) But isn’t familiarity much the point of a holiday tradition? The 21 songs and medleys include a mix of Christmas standards and show tunes, most from shows in which the performers starred. There was even a slot for what Ruahala claimed to be a Hanukkah song, “I See The Light” written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater for the Disney animated film Tangled, which was sung as a duet between Reed and Adam J. Levy, one of the two guest performers.
Highlights for me included a comic medley performed by Egan and Rauhala, and a rocking version of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” but all three principal performers, and their two guests Levy and Aisha Jackson, have gorgeous voices; the pleasure is particularly palpable when they sing in harmony.
Much of the patter between the songs requires a great deal of goodwill from the viewers, which I’m sure will exist. There was a half-hearted jokey effort to pretend to be real princesses, and then some heartfelt reminiscences about childhood holidays and about their careers (All have multiple credits on Broadway, not just as princesses.) Reed gushes at one point: “It was crazy to think that after a lot of hard work I got to play my role model on a Broadway stage” – her role model being the fictional cartoon character Princess Jasmine. This made me wonder whether her schooling involved any history classes. But to be fair, Reed is in the right company: Rauhala began the concert by talking about how as a lonely child he would play princess songs on the piano for his three dogs at a princess party of his devising.
And now he plays the piano at a princess party for paying humans, having conceived the show with Osnes.
When she first comes on stage, Aisha Jackson (Frozen, Waitress, Beautiful) explains that she is from a family of singers, who would go Christmas caroling at the local Macy’s. “It was so much fun to just walk through the aisles. The holiday season can be tough for some people, and it was really cool to see what our caroling could do to people’s hearts. My dad would pray with them, and then people would cry.” Then she sings “O Holy Night” – and, truth be told, it’s one of the moments in this party when some of the viewers will have much the same reaction as those local Macy’s shoppers to her father praying and her family singing.
1. Join The Party (from ‘Dream Along With Mickey’)
2. We Need A Little Christmas/The Chipmunk Song/The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
3. Ring In The Season (from ‘Olaf’s Frozen Adventure)
4. All I Want For Christmas Is You
5. I Won’t Say I’m In Love (from ‘Hercules’)
6. As Long As There’s Christmas (from ‘Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas’)
7. Cinderepic Medley
8. The ‘Princess Poppins’ Medley
9. Loyal Brave True (from ‘Mulan’)
10. A Whole New World (from ‘Aladdin’)
11. All Is Found/Into The Unknown (from ‘Frozen 2’)
12. O Holy Night
13. Jingle ‘Belle’ Medley
14. I See The Light (from ‘Tangled’)
15. Lost In The Woods (from ‘Frozen 2’)
16. The Christmas Song
17. At Christmas
18. In Summer (from ‘Frozen’)
19. Someday/God Help The Outcasts (from ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’)
20. Let It Go (from ‘Frozen’)
21. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas