In a format similar to that used in their hugely popular “Legacy” series, Studio Tenn, Middle Tennessee’s very own Broadway-quality theatre company is currently presenting their holiday offering, “A Studio Tenn Christmas” with performances through Sunday, December 18 at Jamison Hall in The Factory at Franklin.
After the success of last year’s one-night-only holiday concert, Studio Tenn’s managing director Jake Speck, artistic director Matt Logan and company wisely opted to expand this year’s Christmas show into a two-week run.
Inspired by those swingin’ 60s holiday specials starring Perry Como, Dean Martin, Dinah Shore, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald et al, “A Studio Tenn Christmas” features eight of the company’s ridiculously talented performers alongside Speck and Logan. The plot, if there’s really one at all, finds these ten friends gathering in an ultra mod pad, complete with roaring fireplace and festive holiday decor (yet another home run set design from the always detail-oriented Logan) for a holiday party. Of course the entire group is decked out in threads that would put the cast of “Mad Men” on fashion alert.
Aided by music director Ryan Connors and a band of musicians just left of the stage, the party gets going as the whole gang chimes in for the appropriately titled “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”. Then it’s announced that the party-goers must sing a song in order to received a present.
First up is Libby Black, seen recently on stage with Studio Tenn in “The Ray Legacy”, starting things off by belting out “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.
Next is Laura Matula, the show’s music supervisor and vocal arranger. Last year Matula blew audiences away as the Wicked Witch of the West in Studio Tenn’s “The Wizard of Oz” onstage at Nashville’s glorious Schermerhorn Symphony Center. With a vocal vibrato that rivals that other Oz star, Judy Garland herself, Matula wraps her voice around every single note of “White Christmas”, leaving the audience both in awe and thirsty for more.
Lest the audience think for even a minute that Studio Tenn is all about the ladies, Logan lets loose on a cheeky version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” cleverly mashed-up with Patrick Thomas’ rocking take on “Run, Run, Rudolph”. Thomas, as adept at singing as he is at playing piano proved to be a stand-out in both Studio Tenn’s “The Hank Legacy” and “The Cash Legacy”.
When I heard the opening notes of the next tune, I was in holiday heaven. As if Matula’s “White Christmas” wasn’t enough, there’s a medley of other songs from my all-time favorite Christmas movie, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”, including “Snow” courtesy Bradley D. Gale, Matt Logan, Erin Parker and Laura Matula filling in nicely for Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Allen and Rosemary Clooney, followed by an optimistic reminder to “Count Your Blessings” courtesy of Piper Jones, who possesses a voice that’s tonally perfect, rich and full–well beyond the former Belmont student’s years.
Also included in the “White Christmas” medley, Melodie Madden Adams offers up a sultry “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”. Hearing Adams flirtatious take had me lost in a daydream for a minute as I imagine her performance must have been what it would have been like had Marilyn Monroe ever appeared on a 60s holiday special. Seductive, sweet, with just the right among of sadness and sexiness.
The “White Christmas” medley concludes with a dance-filled turn by Speck and his wife, Studio Tenn’s resident choreographer, Emily Tello-Speck on “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”. What a pure joy to watch these two performing together, sharing their love, not only of musical theatre, but each other with the entire audience.
Lightening the mood, Speck goes solo for “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch”. I swear, I don’t know what it is about this song this year, but it’s suddenly one of my favorites.
Then, just like that, it’s time for Patrick Thomas to turn on the audience’s waterworks with a faithfully emotion version of “Pretty Paper”. I’m not gonna lie, my eyes may have began to ‘sweat’ during that one.
Relative newcomer to Nashville following a three-year stint on the road with “Book of Mormon”, Bradley D. Gale, who was recently seen in Studio Tenn’s “Evita”, takes center stage for the playful “Little Saint Nick”.
Keeping that retro vibe alive, the ladies pay tribute to The McGuire Sisters with a harmonious version of “Christmas Alphabet”, a song that went on to become a number one hit for Brit-born pop star Dickie Valentine.
Then it’s time for another tear-inducing moment when Jones takes on “Please Come Home for Christmas”.
Sensing sentimental saps like myself might need a bit of a breather, Erin Parker hams it up with the modern cult classic “The Christmas Tree’s On Fire”. Never heard it? Not surprised. It was released in 2006 by blues/folk rocker Holly Golightly, best know for her duet with superfan Jack White on “It’s True That We Love One Another” from the White Stripes’ 2003 “Elephant” release.
Act 1 wraps with Tello-Speck taking on “Here Comes Santa Claus” and Logan returning for “Frosty the Snowman”.
When “A Studio Tenn Christmas” continues with Act 2, the cast ‘returns from caroling’ suspiciously wearing completely different outfits. Hey, what do you expect? The whole night IS based on 60s TV holiday specials, and you know they were full of costume changes.
The holiday hits keep coming during Act 2 with most of the cast serving up two more Christmas treats each. Among the highlights of the second half of the show, Tello-Speck’s gorgeous interpretation of “The Best Gift”. The fact that she and Speck have three young sons makes this moment all the more touching.
Never becoming too maudlin a show, next up, Logan swivels and sways as he serves up some Elvis realness on “Blue Christmas”. My Mom was with me the night I attended the show and she loved this one!
Matula, Adams and Parker showcase their talents on a classic favorite, Angels We Have Heard on High”. It should be no surprise that these three ladies’ voices blend so heavenly, considering all three of them are members of MAS Nashville, a absolutely splendid all-girl vocal group based here in Music City.
Jones sheds new light on a classic with her glorious rendition of “O Christmas Tree” that’s brimming with soul and power. Full disclosure: I had never truly listened to the third verse which says: “O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Your boughs can teach a lesson that constant faith and hope sublime lend strength and comfort through all time”. Just let the message of those words sink in for a minute.
As the evening nears its close, Speck truly embraces the holiday spirit and his role as patriarch of Studio Tenn with the penultimate holiday tune, “The Christmas Song”. Patrick Thomas mesmerizes and reminds the audience once again of the reason for the season with a lovely version of “O Holy Night”.
Finishing as they had began, Black is back for one final solo as she warbles diva-style on “Christmas Baby Please Come Home”. The evening comes to a close with one last sentimental serenade for an all-in heartwarming take on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, ending with the familiar lyric: “If only in my dreams”. A fitting finale, considering “A Studio Tenn Christmas” and this entire brilliantly talented cast will definitely be in the Christmas dreams of anyone lucky enough to witness this production.
“A Studio Tenn Christmas” continues its all-too-brief two-week run at Jamison Hall in the Factory at Franklin (230 Franklin Road, Franklin, TN 37064) with performances through Sunday, December 18. Thursday-Saturday shows are nightly at 7p.m. with a final Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets range in price from $35-$90. Click Here for tickets or more information. Following a brief winter break, Studio Tenn will be back at Jameson Hall with their presentation of recent Tony-award winning drama, “The Elephant Man” from February 16-26. Click Here for tickets. Follow Studio Tenn on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the latest news about the remainder of their 2016/2017 season.
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