Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Broadway Holiday Spectacular
Transcendence Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's reviews of Twelfth Night and A Christmas Carol

Edward Juvier, David R. Gordon, Maria Bilbao,
Arielle Crosby, and Lori Haley Fox

Photo by Rob Martel
Time's up. Pencils down. Voting is over. The winner in the category "Best Live Holiday Show" is Transcendence Theatre Company's Broadway Holiday Spectacular, currently in production at Belos Cavalos in Kenwood, California. In the end, it wasn't much of a contest, because try as I might, it was nearly impossible to wipe the smile from my face. The incredibly talented cast of 15 took me—and several hundred others—on a journey that strove to relieve whatever anxiety and stress we might be feeling and celebrate the simple joy of being alive and gathering with family and friends to share that joy.

The company acknowledges the current climate of anxiety and dispensed through a rousing rendition of "We Need a Little Christmas" (from Mame). From there it is two hours of near perfection, as the company moves from one holiday/winter-themed song to another, accompanied by a tight band led by Susan Draus, and choreographed with imagination and flair by Matthew Steffens (who also directs) and Marissa Barragán. Unlike holiday shows with a moral (e.g., A Christmas Carol) or a message (It's A Wonderful Life), the Broadway Holiday Spectacular has no such pretensions, and only wants to entertain you, to make you forget your troubles.

With most TTC revues, there's a minor throughline, some barebones story on which they can hang the songs, but it often doesn't go much further than the title: Road Trip featured songs about driving and travel and cars and places you'd visit, and Those Dancin' Feet and Shall We Dance? and Dancing the Night Away were about ... dance. The story here has somewhat more oomph to it, telling the story of Mrs. Claus (Lori Haley Fox): how she met her jolly old elf (here a jolly-but-not-so-old Preston Truman Boyd in a red plaid fleece-lined trucker jacket) and the work she puts in the other 364 days of the year.

A couple of the songs are repeats from previous holiday shows—including a version of Donna Summer's "Last Dance" that isn't holiday-oriented at all, but still lots of fun, and a parody of Madonna's "Vogue" called "Glow" that tells the story of Rudolph in a fresh way. But there are lots of new numbers, too. Many are songs you'll know, but a few will likely be as new to you as they were to me, including "Sparkeljollytwinklejingley" (from the musical version of Elf), Louis Armstrong's "Cool Yule," and a hilarious send up of Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" entitled "El Pastel de Frutas," a celebration of that quintessential holiday sweet that engenders strong opinions on both sides, the fruitcake.

The professionalism and attention to detail demonstrated by the TTC team is truly spectacular. "The Little Drummer Boy" is far and away my least favorite Christmas song. But it is saved by a break during which the band swings into one of my favorite tunes ever, Benny Goodman and Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing" Sing," and the cast pounds out a rhythm on boxes painted like gifts with drumsticks wrapped in red ribbon to look like candy canes. In a scene where Mrs. Claus gives another cast member a playful spank with a spatula, a sharp eye will notice the spatula is imprinted with the word "naughty." And after one of the performers took a scary tumble when the coffee table she was stepping onto tipped and dropped her hard to the stage, the cast kept going, never missed a beat, and brushed the dust from her costume as if were all part of the choreography. Pretty much the only detail I feel is off the mark at all are the two Christmas trees. So haphazard and bland are their decorations that I hesitate to imagine the tut-tutting Martha Stewart would have given them.

The Broadway Holiday Spectacular also references the fact that the holiday season includes Hanukkah in a much more elegant and imaginative way than in the past. After a bit of patter between "the Jews at this party" and the challenges of being Jewish at Christmastime, David R. Gordan and the band's bassist, Lynn Keller then segue into the very funny "The Challaday Song" and the rest of the cast joins them for a lovely medley of both "Sabbath Prayer" from Fiddler on the Roof and "O Holy Night."

The costumes, by Evan Prizant, are just the right mix of flashy and fun—with lots of red and green, ugly Christmas sweaters (and one ugly Hanukkah sweater), and a stunning satin skirt imprinted with an alpine scene complete with Swiss chalets.

If I haven't convinced you to get your tickets for this weekend (the show is sadly running only on two weekends) already, I will share this final note I scribbled as the show ended: "there wasn't a moment when I didn't feel entertained." I'm confident you will feel the same.

Transcendence Theatre Company's Broadway Holiday Spectacular runs through December 12, 2021, at Belos Cavalos, 687 Campagna Lane, Kenwood CA. Performances are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening with at 7:30 p.m., and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $40-$149. The top ticket includes VIP parking, two glasses of wine and seating at tables close to the stage. Tickets and additional information can be found at