Fort Worth — The energetic, high-hearted nine-member ensemble opens Jubilee Theatre’s holiday show, Do You Hear What I Hear! A Jubilee Christmas with an upbeat rendition of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Dressed in handsome coats and bright scarves, the singers bustle about the arena stage with shopping bags and big smiles, virtually ignoring a man huddled on a step with his hand out. As the spirited and entertaining musical revue progresses, we learn more about the homeless man and his mother—and the busy partiers gradually listen up with a sympathetic smile.
Director Akín Babatundé, who also wrote the framing story, brings fresh arrangements to traditional Christmas carols, including “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Jingle Bells Rock,” and a jazzy “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” Less familiar songs perk the show throughout, whether sung by the entire ensemble or by the superb men’s and women’s quartets. Solo numbers are mostly slower songs, including the poignant “Where Are You Christmas?” and “What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas.” But, for the most part, the show moves to a happy beat.
Many of the songs are just plain laugh-out-loud fun. The men’s quartet do an appropriately R&B styling on the playful parody, “Rudolph the Blue-Nosed Reindeer.” The men also sing terrific barbershop harmony on a finger-snapping “Let It Snow.”
Selmore Haines III, acting as narrator, emcee and the man with a past, sings a flirty blues number, “Back Door Santa,” wearing spats, a jewel-encrusted cummerbund and a wicked smile. This hip-rolling Saint Nick sings, “I make all the ladies happy while the men are out to play.” For sure, all the audience gave this frankly sexy song an extra round of applause.
Choreographer Shaté Edwards, who worked with Babatundeé in Jubilee’s hit show The Color Purple, is back to add some exciting movement to the proceedings. The women’s quartet delivers serious boogie-down action to “Deck the Halls. Several numbers involve partnering off for a turn or two, accompanied live by music director Geno Young on piano and a variety of toe-tapping synthesizer effects.
Anthony Denson, the youngest of the troupe, does a unique dance number to “Little Drummer Boy,” featuring a kind of slow break dancing to an Afro-centric drumming beat. The piece is compelling and moving in its young man’s tribute to the holy son of man.
The show looks holiday bright, thanks to Rodney Dobbs’ simple, effective set, featuring giant gift-wrapped boxes on the back of the stage, and plenty of holiday props. Singers carry everything from beribboned wreaths to colored songbooks and deliver some songs at old-fashioned radio mikes.
Barbara O’Donoghue’s costumes are varied and festive, with lots of red velvet, gold lame and happy bling for the girls and elegant tuxedos and colored vests on the guys.
The two-hour show flies by, and before we know it the happy ensemble is gathered before us to perform a chorale style medley that begins with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and ends with “Joy to the World.”
“Put your arms around the world,” our emcee calls to departing guests. Easy enough—on a fine night in beautiful downtown Fort Worth, as you leave Jubilee Theatre with warm hearts, and still humming the last song.