They're singing "Deck the Halls," but in Home for the Holidays, the artless new concert at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre, it's not like Christmas at all. Featuring winners from American Idol, The Voice, and America's Got Talent, plus a Bachelorette, a married pair of YouTube stars, and a beloved, Oscar-nominated character actor, this 80-minute riff-fest doesn't transmit the feeling of Christmas; in fact, it just makes us feel sad.
"A cast unlike any other ever assembled" is promised. The headliners are Candice Glover (American Idol, Season 12), Josh Kaufman (The Voice, Season 6), and Bianca Ryan (America's Got Talent, Season 1). Internet a cappella personalities Peter and Evynne Hollens provide backup vocals. Kaitlyn Bristowe (The Bachelorette, Season 11) serves as the evening's ostensible host. And Danny Aiello, Cher's jilted fiancé in Moonstruck and the only cast member who looks like he's having any fun, shares stories about Christmastime in New York City.
What follows is a strange concert that desperately tries to win over the audience, only succeeding intermittently. There are highlights in the form of Glover's movingly simple take on "Where Are You, Christmas?" by Faith Hill, Kaufman's surprising rendition of Mariah Carey's staple "All I Want for Christmas Is You," and Peter Hollens's passion-filled take on a self-penned tune titled "December Song." Overall, the up-tempo numbers never seem to last long enough, while drawn-out versions of spirituals like "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "O Holy Night" feel like they go on forever.
"I was somewhat apprehensive about doing this show," Aiello tells us, because it's a musical and he doesn't really sing. But there are probably other reasons at hand: The set, just a few tall decorative white Christmas trees, is chintzy, and the formal-wear costumes are stylistically at odds with each other (for every dress the women change into, Aiello switches into a different scarf). Christmas cheer is far away, and the singers can barely even get the audience to clap along.
Still, Glover has a big voice and charisma to spare, as do the Hollens, who are too talented to be featured as little as they are. Kaufman, who played the title role in Pippin at the Music Box Theatre in 2014, seems less at home in the spotlight, while Ryan, whose breathy takes on several songs (including her own Christmas tune "Why Couldn't It Be Christmas Every Day?") muddle their lyrics, just looks scared. Bristowe seems very excited to be on Broadway, though her delivery of brief, generic transitional monologues is rather stilted. Creative and musical director Jonathan Tessero leads an excellent nine-member onstage rhythm band.
But in the end, it's Aiello's performance that's ultimately the most enjoyable. This grandfatherly figure relays stories about the olden days of New York, an era where you could stand on the street outside Radio City Music Hall and hear the echoes of The Bells of St. Mary's playing inside, while the actual bells of the nearby churches rang in unison. These memories have stuck with him for decades, and despite his admission that they may have been fabricated through the years, his delivery is more honest and pure than anything that comes before or after. He's the one shiny bauble in a show that could use a lot more of them.
- Home for the Holidays
- August Wilson Theatre
- Josh Kaufman
- Kaitlyn Bristowe
- Danny Aiello
- Candice Glover
- Bianca Ryan
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