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Hours of Operation: Mon - Fri 8:00am - 8:00pm

Barrington Stage Company

A Holiday Getaway

A Cabaret

With Alan H. Green, Alysha Umphress, and Joel Waggoner

For a Scat - ered Holiday. . .take early and ....

     Too often, these days, it seems that a simple Christmas Carol (traditional songs or the Dickens story for example-your choice) passes for holiday entertainment. Not this year, however, at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, MA.  Instead we have an original cabaret-style entertainment with three of the most extraordinary performers in the world of contemporary theater. Alysha Umphress, Alan H. Green and Joel Waggoner take the stage at the Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, singing, chatting or simply giving one another knowing looks, and bring new meaning to the concept of celebration, one bounded on all sides by the idea of Scat. That's not a reference to the scatological, although at time it could be, but rather to the type of singing, of vocal-technique, that made stars out of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and so many other jazz-based singers that informed my years of musical growth in the 1950s and 1960s. "Vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all"  reads Wikipedia, "the singer improvises melodies and rhythms using the voice as an instrument rather than a speaking medium."  ´╗┐All three of the BSC artists are remarkably adept at this style and like other wonders of the season - Santa Claus and flying reindeer, for example -  it works!

Alan H. Green, Joel Waggoner, Alysha Umphress singing Silent Night; Photo: David Dashiell

     Alan H. Green is fast becoming a favorite performer at Barrington Stage. He is a unique personality with a great singing voice and wonderfully endearing manner. He can offer style and originality to anything and he appears to be the perfect vocal collaborator to other artists. In this show he refers to his Texas roots, produces vocal improvisations with the best and often moves his listeners with his sombre solo work.

     With so much unfamiliar music in this show, Green manages to present his songs with a sense of familiarity and ease that lets the songs themselves do all the work that charms us and warms us with the odd awareness of knowing where he's going and how he'll get there. Whether well-dressed or comically  costumed he has the ability to share with us his comfort in whatever he presents.

     He shares this with his co-performers and it is a gracious sharing indeed. Physically and vocally he is the perfect collaborator/star. In the realm of scat-singing he is agile and able and amply supplied with high and low notes, an easy slide and swoop and a sure improvisational style that allows him to move freely in and out of the tune that guides each and every song. Nothing in his work ever points to a level of exhaustion and he makes it all seem so easy that he almost encourages you to try and sing along.

     I hope he will come back often to the stages of BSC and explore avenues unconceived as yet.
Alan H, Green; Photo: David Dashiell

Alysha Umphress; Photo: David Dashiell

     I've thought, in the past, of Ms. Umphress as a funny woman who sings but as of this holiday she is a singer who has the knack for funny. She belts, she croons, she moves us and she shakes us. Her way with scat-singing is as right as anything produced by Ella or Carmen McCrea or Sarah Vaughan. While there have been other white scat singers, such as Amy Winehouse or Jane Monheit, Umphress seems unusually at ease in the technique, somewhat along the lines of Mel Torme or Bing Crosby.

     She is extremely funny in this show giving it that touch of whimsy that seems so appropriate to the material, particularly "Christmastime for the Jews." This is just one example of the broad measures the creators/interpreters have brought to this luscious little evening which would not be as good as it is without the contributions of Alysha Umphress. 

     At the apex of the triangle of performers is Joel Waggoner, who sings, plays piano, guitar, bongo drums and violin. He accompanies most of the hour and seventeen minutes of holiday hoopla and has composed some of the more esoteric and hilarious songs the trio sing. He is a very funny man and he endears himself easily and steadily and often threatens  to steal the evening, but he is a major mensch and never does what he could so easily do.

      Early on he undertakes the role of the Grinch and sings that character's personal self-tribute song altering the mood of one of the more traditional theme/mashups sung by Green and Umphress ("Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"and "I'll Be Home for Christmas"). As the funniest of the threesome he often surprises and even startles us back to full awareness and gets the laughs that make this show such a joy to watch.

     He has been on Broadway in "School of Rock", wrote the score for BSC's "Presto-Change-o" and is also a music director for theatrical pieces. Multi-talented he also can perform, and does, high kicks in this holiday entertainment. 

     The show has a very expressive set and costumes with excellent lighting and it has been taped for this too short run by excellent technicians who balance sound perfectly (which I am delighted to note in a BSC review).

     Certainly more than worth the price of admission seeing this show, and sharing it, makes an excellent holiday gift whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa or any other special day. But the run is short so see it soon.

##### 12/19/20 #####
Joel Waggoner does high kicks; Photo: David Dashiell

BSC's Holiday Getaway is available for $25 through Wednesday, December 23 at 7:30 pm ET. It can be found by following the link at  Ovation Tix.