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Ruben Studdard & Clay Aiken at the Imperial
Last Edit: JereNYC 05:24 pm EST 12/14/18
Posted by: JereNYC (JereNYC@aol.com) 05:16 pm EST 12/14/18

So I went to see Ruben & Clay's holiday show at the Imperial last night. I have to saw that, although I watched their season of AMERICAN IDOL, I hadn't really kept up with their careers over the past 15 years. I vaguely remember Studdard doing a tour of AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' and Aiken's stint as a replacement on Broadway in SPAMALOT. I knew that Aiken had finally come out at some point after being a target of speculation since IDOL. And I also recalled that he'd had a child with a friend and had run for Congress from his native North Carolina one year and lost. So I knew them, but would never call myself a fan.

And I couldn't believe how much I loved this holiday show. It was so much fun that I lost track of how many times I laughed out loud. Studdard and Aiken are a terrific comedy duo and have an easy chemistry together that recalls Hope and Crosby in those old Hollywood road movies. The show is structured like one of those celebrity studded television Christmas specials of yore and the set looks like it's on loan from a production of THE GRINCH, in the best way possible. The two stars are joined by an ensemble of five, the best known of which is Farah Alvin, to do light comedy and sing medleys of Christmas carols and generally look like they are having a marvelous time.

The show isn't all joke walls and ugly Christmas sweaters though. Partway through the second act, the tone changes 180 degrees, the fun stops, and Aiken and Studdard spend what feels like hours trading off at the mic doing church-y ballads in front of set pieces that vaguely recalled stained glass windows, while pre-recorded video interviews play on screen in which they talk about their lives and what inspires them. This part of the show nearly sinks the entire enterprise and Aiken and Studdard couldn't do any better than to simply cut it entirely. With a running time of two hours and fifteen minutes, including intermission, the show doesn't need it. Between this and the production shilling for a autism charity, it was earnestness overload.

But they're able to pull it back after this ill-advised segment and finish the show with the fun and frivolity with which they started and send the crowd out on a high.

Incidentally, Aiken's sexual orientation does not come up at all during the proceedings, even when the party atmosphere on stage has a vaguely romantic/sexual vibe...all the song couplings we see are male/female. Studdard projects an easy heterosexuality and much is made of a running joke in which one of the women in the ensemble has a thing for him. Aiken, however, plays up the pernickety asexuality that was a Hollywood staple before we could just he honest about who such characters were. There's a running joke regarding a "swear sock," that Aiken insists everyone pay $1 into every time they curse or say something in the neighborhood of unwholesome. Have you heard the (possibly) apocryphal story about Loretta Young and Ethel Merman on a film set? Well, Studdard goes for the Merman set up of this exact same joke when he pays $10 into the sock, but, sadly, does not, in response to Aiken's query about why he's putting in so much, tell Aiken to go fuck himself.

Actually, Aiken does get one moment with one of the men on stage. The guy was singing and there was an obvious cue for a kiss and one of the women twirled in and kissed him on the cheek. And so did Aiken. There was a lovely shared look between them just after that moment that made me wish that Aiken had chosen to include his sexuality in the show...I'd have loved to have seen a romantic duet between the two men.

And I was a bit surprised to enter the theatre and find that the Imperial was half empty for such a delightful show. I suppose that, in a real life twist on Roxie and Velma, neither star is really a huge draw nowadays, but someone must have hoped that teaming them together would create a level of interest that neither could manage solo. The extended title of the show suggests that this production is the "first annual" edition of the show and I hope that Aiken and Studdard do get to return in future and that word of mouth about how good they are together sells some tickets to future editions.
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