Fort Worth — T’wuz the time before Christmas
And all through the streets
We were up to our eyebrows
In eggnog and sweets.
Time for a change with some sass and some shimmy,
A real Jubilation would be just the thingy.
Yes, yes, we love the holidays. But if you’ve been Bing Crosby-ed once too often this year, Jubilation II: The Colors of Christmas at Jubilee Theatre might be the change of pace you need: a Christmas show with an R&B vibe and a gospel heart.
It’s Year Two for Jubilee’s Christmas dance-and-songfest and, as once again the fun takes place in the mind of a boy named Rudy (Keith Galloway Jr.) in the imagined town of Rudyville (both named for Jubilee’s late founder Rudy Eastman). This year’s show, again written and composed by Jubilee’s Tre Garrett and Geno Young, concentrates on Rudyville’s hot spot, a nightclub run by Leroy (Oris Phillips Jr.)—who’s throwing a “rent party” to raise cash…and have some fun doing it.
The cast skews a bit younger than last year, and choreographer JuNene K (who also plays Rudy’s mom) takes full advantage—keeping the dancers moving through the slick moves of the ‘60s: the Twist, the Jerk, the Swim, the Slide, the Pony, the Frug (and whatever it is that Tina Turner does). Barbara O’Donoghue costumes are retro all the way: for the ladies, satin sheath mini-dresses that shimmer and gleam, with slim suits and holiday vests for the gents.
Sprinkled throughout are traditional Christmas songs—“O Holy Night”, “Go Tell it On the Mountain”, “Joy to the World”—but more of the numbers are “Yule-i-fied” R&B classics and Motown hits, the lyrics tweaked to give them a holiday theme. The refrain of the Temptations hit “The Way You Do The Things You Do” becomes “And it’s ha-aa-aa-ard—to buy a Christmas gift for you!” and Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” becomes “Proud Santa”, an anthem sung by overworked elves (“Took a lotta dolls to Memphis…”) Even the non-tweaked pop favorites like “Let it Snow” or “Little Drummer Boy” have a slowed down, sexy-jazz beat. And behind the singers is projected film footage of the great artists who did the originals—from Ray Charles to Diana Ross to a very young Michael Jackson.
The three “Silver Bells”—Ja’Shaelyn Carmichael, Whitney Coulter and Lakesha Clark—can sell a tune and shimmy till midnight (though look out, ladies, that’s Tina Turner onscreen competing with you!) to these “adapted” songs (“Mr. Postman” becomes “Mr. Santa”) and to some that are tailor-made, like the classic hottie “Santa Baby.” Accompanying Phillips as Leroy, the trio of Anthony Denson, Gabriel Lawson and Durant Searcy are the “Mistletoes”, mighty fine with the singing and dancing—and they can handle comedy, too. How to pick a Christmas gift for my lady, wonders one? “Lean not on your own understanding,” she tells him with a look—and the Bible quote gets a knowing laugh.
Liz Francisco returns to anchor the cast as Mamma M, and her low-note, resonant “O Holy Night” sends the show in a more spiritual direction, for some gospel tunes and church choir favorites. Gavin and TJ Leveritt play cute little elves; choreographer JuNene K dances ethereally to Whitney Houston’s song “Who Would Imagine a King”, and the ensemble recalls an “old storefront on Rosedale” (Jubilee’s long-ago home) where there was always “Dancin’ in the Streets” during the holidays—from Como to Mistletoe Heights, from Diamond Hill to DeSoto.
It’s Christmas with a kick—a jubilation, indeed.