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That Time of the Year

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

That Time of the Year, which just opened at the York Theatre at St. Peter's, does not have an official mascot. But I'd like to propose one: Angelo Rosenbaum.

You meet this tortured young man (played with neurotic relish by Jonathan Rayson) within minutes of the lights going up on this charmingly bipolar revue, and nothing else in the show seems to represent it quite as well. His problem, you see, is that he's half Catholic and half Jewish, and finding a girl who can respect - and live with - both is mighty difficult. Can no woman tolerate both a Christmas tree and a menorah?

Whether Angelo finds who he's looking for won't be revealed here. But his difficulties are much like those facing That Time of the Year, and whether the show overcomes them to your satisfaction will depend on your own level of tolerance - not just for Christianity and Judaism, but for the repetitiveness any show of this type invariably suffers.

Conceiver-lyricists Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman, working with seven contributing composers, dutifully cycle through each of five categories of songs for the roughly two dozen contained here. Before the evening is over, you'll hear Christmas and Hannukah songs, both secular and religious, and numbers detailing assorted nondenominational experiences from meeting someone under the mistletoe to a proliferation of fattening food.

If the show never exactly gets tiring, there can only ever be so much variety, and the same territory is explored time and time again. But it's all in gentle good fun, and when you toss in the fine, festive, five-person cast director Annette Jolles has assembled, you've got an evening of delightful - if disposable - holiday music that's a nice change of pace from yet another airing of It's a Wonderful Life.

For the Christians, composer Kyle Rosen (also responsible for "Angelo Rosenbaum") has given both Joseph and Mary their say, the former before the Savior's birth in the uncertain but trusting "God Only Knows" (sweetly sung by Nick Verina) and the latter afterward in "Welcome" (in a heartfelt performance by Bridget Beirne). Of a decidedly more Jewish bent are the haunting "Candles in the Window" (music by Wendy Wilf), in which Rayson plays an old man explaining the menorah's deeper significance to European Jews in the 1930s, and "Miracles Can Happen" (music by Nicholas Levin), an anthemic, full-cast tribute to the lasting meaning of Hanukkah.

On the less spiritual side, Mrs. Claus (a delectable Kerri Jill Garbis) gets her obligatory deserted-wife plaint in "Stay Home Tonight" (music by Brad Ross); Elvis Presley takes on the Hanukkah story in the deliberately anachronistic first-act finale, "Judah Maccabee" (humorously musicalized by Sanford Marc Cohen); in "They All Come Home" (Levin), Erin Maguire warmly reflects on the extended family she sees only at the holidays; "Wong Ho's China Garden" (with Ross's music) looks at the personal history surrounding one Jewish couple's annual Christmas feast of Chinese food. "People With Obligations" (Ross) tackles how sons and daughters' holiday plans are thrown into disarray by their demanding parents, and "Husbands' Blues" (music by Mark Wherry) is the tragic tale of two deluded men trying to buy presents for their wives.

Jolles has staged and choreographed this all very genially, scenic designer James Morgan has transformed the York stage into a smile-inducing pile of presents, and the three-piece band (led by music director Annie Pasqua), accompanies with appropriately bouncy flair. This production is as professional and shinily executed as any at the York gets, but as the score contains no new classic tunes and a couple of missteps (must two first-act songs dealing with gay children coming out at Christmas be performed back-to-back?), not much will stick with you for long.

But you'll probably be hard-pressed to forget entries like "Time for a Spin" (Donald Oliver), which Verina surreally sings while dressed as a giant purple dreidl (Terese Wadden's colorful costumes never get more outlandish), or "Holiday Lament" (Wherry), a trio for three neglected fruitcakes. Creativity is, thankfully, not a problem with That Time of the Year. Just about all that's missing is Jesus and Judah Maccabee wrestling each other for ultimate December supremacy. Well, Holzman and Needleman have to save something for the sequel.


That Time of the Year
Through December 24
Theatre at Saint Peter's Church in the Citicorp Center, 54th Street and Lexington Avenue
TICKETS: visit www.yorktheatre.org or call 212.935.5820