Dallas — If Christmas Our Way at Uptown Players is not already sold out, it should be. Happy, hilarious, fresh and joyful, the 13 “Diva Women and 13 “Diva Men” make a baker’s dozen the lucky number for hot and heartfelt Christmas tailored for patrons who are gay, straight and everywhere in between. On Thursday night, the packed audience at Kalita Humphreys Theater cheered and clapped when co-host and writer/director B. J. Cleveland declared, “It’s the most wonderful time to be queer!”
Not only do these 26 high-kicking, hip-thrusting performers sing and dance like a million bucks, they’re giving it away for Uptown’s annual fundraising event, usually held in January and titled Broadway Our Way. (The shift to a December date for this show came about because the Dallas Theater Center is returning to its former venue for part of the spring schedule.) Never mind. Comedy prevails for this stylish, upbeat show that has performers moving up, down and around Dennis Canright’s set with multiple staircases revolving to reveal a party scene or a cozy fireplace.
Almost everybody in the show delivers at least one terrific solo, and the company sings and moves together as if they’ve been performing these songs for months (music direction by Kevin Gunter, musical arrangements by Adam C. Wright). In fact, they’ve been practicing hard for just three weeks. That sense of camaraderie for a cause they love permeates the performance and radiates a powerful warmth to the audience—making folks especially happy when the actors mince their way down the aisles for some lap-dancing! Hard to pick highlights from such a cast, but here goes.
Leggy glamour puss Walter Lee establishes the playful tone of the show with his teasing lyrics from Nutcracker’s Christmas: “All I Want for Christmas” is a one-night stand—in Carnegie Hall “with a good big band,” he goes on to sing. Of course. The 30 numbers range from gender-bending takes on holiday favorites and popular musicals to a laugh-out-loud battle when black actors Lee and Darius-Anthony Robinson cut loose with rival renditions of “White Christmas.” Bing-off, old man.
Co-host Marisa Diotalevi does the hilarious cocktail menu version of “12 Days of Christmas” from She Loves Me, her voice growing increasingly slurry and her balance in shambles as she imbibes her way through numerous rounds of drinks, including three margaritas, seven whiskey sours, eleven bloody Marys—and nearly passes out before getting to the 12th drink of Christmas.
Lithe, limber and beautiful Linda Leonard choreographed the show, and sings and dances her way through an elegant and athletic “Blue Skies,” including some dramatically executed lifts with partner Michael Albee, a zinger in all the dance numbers.
Morgan Mabry Mason and Laura Lites, both gorgeous young actresses with wonderfully compatible soprano voices, heat up the house with their playfully naughty delivery of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Coy Covington is a haughty hoot in a gorgeous blonde wig (he did all wigs for the show), pausing dramatically as he bats his eyelashes and descends the stairs singing “Jingle Bells” with a particularly comic emphasis. Covington (spinsterish in a wheelchair) and Cleveland (blousy in a blonde wig and pillowed middle) bring down the house with their Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? take on “Sisters” from White Christmas.
Dauntless Dallas diva M. Denise Lee opens the second act with “The Man with the Bag” with her customary authority and magical mezzo. Talk about a roomful of satisfied customers. This Miz Santa has so many gifts they won’t fit in a bag. Sing it, Lady D.
Not all the numbers are holiday fun-fare. The second half has more bluesy and thoughtful songs. Peter DiCesare sings a hauntingly evocative “Once Upon a December,” from Anastasia, and Angel Velasco delivers a beautifully clear-voiced number called “Home,” a quietly illuminating song about the epiphany of being loved. Mason sings a wistfully lovely “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Lites’ rich voice fills the theater with vibrant longing in “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Maybe not enough said, but you get the picture, and you want to see this one up close. Grab your tix while you can before opening night word-of-mouth sells out every joyful performance.