Dallas — It’s Christmas Eve 2016 in South Dallas, and a handsome crowd of regulars and newcomers are gathered at the Yellow Rose, a popular nightclub with a tight jazz trio, newly reopened after a threat of death by gentrification. Naughty but Nice, an original cabaret conceived by the members of Soul Rep Theatre Company, is a smart and playful holiday evening showcasing 10 local artists, all sporting a merry smile and a heartfelt delivery.
While the audience moves into seats, the musicians play cool Miles Davis sounds as the lounge customers move into the small club, where the barkeep is setting up and folks are choosing their tables, all trimmed up with white tablecloths tied with bright bows beneath. The lounge belongs to local blues diva and hot mama Ms D, played with heart and hip-shakin’ singing by Chimberly Carter-Byrom. Everybody wants this club to work. One regular says, “We don’t have no Deep Ellum no more; all we have is this place.” And Ms D gets to it.
The owner’s longtime boyfriend, baritone Douglas Carter, starts the grand reopening off with a toast to his lady and the evening, “We love the Yellow Rose and each other,” he says, and proves it with a soulful rendition of “Merry Christmas, Baby.”
Director La Hunter-Smith alternates the mood and style of the 20 songs, so we hear a jazzy “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from Carter-Byrom, followed by a pop-comic duet on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by svelte soprano Kyndal Robertson and funnyman tenor J. R. Bradford.
A romantic young couple sitting stage center get their turn to sing love songs. High-note songstress Mandi Green sings a loving “This Time of Year,” and tall, dark and hunky tenor Jason Hallman sings “This Christmas.”
The characters sing the songs you’d imagine they’d write. Bradford, the jokester and be-bop man, sings “Back Door Santa,” and promises to “make all the little girls happy.” Another “naughty” song, “Zat You, Santa Claus?” is delivered by a grinning Carter, with a skip and a sly wink.
The ladies have their share of holiday songs for grown-up girls. (The ads note the show is for adults only.) Carter-Byrom shakes it down with a rockin’ “I Want a Man Down My Chimney,” and teams up with Robertson and Green for a sweet and sexy “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Robertson, flaming in a red pantsuit, sings a sultry “I Know What He Wants for Christmas,” if only she could figure out how best to wrap it up. Baby-faced Brittney Dubose sings “Santa Baby” with an arch tone, but her voice is a little thin to deliver the drawling, kittenish appeal of this suggestive, sugary song.
The ensemble numbers are fun and cleverly choreographed by Hunter-Smith. Everybody gets in on the act in “Get Down, Santa” and “Oh, Santa,” both rhythmic, easy-rhyming songs that get the audience clapping to the beat.
The musicians in the combo—Brent Nance, Linny Nance and Walter Nelson—deserve the big hand they got on opening night. The show runs about 70 minutes, and goes by so fast you wish the Yellow Rose was open longer.
Soul Rep Artistic Director Guinea Bennett-Price hopes to make Naughty but Nice an annual holiday tradition for the group. Me, too.