There is something quite beguiling about cabaret theater: the intimate setting, the twinkling lights, the occasional sound of a clinking champagne glass, the mood of expectancy. All this means nothing, however, if the actual show does not deliver.
And deliver it did Saturday night in the famous Venetian Room at The Fairmont Hotel. “Mistletoe Magic” whisked us back to a vanishing era of glamor and sophistication, with dancers from Bruce Wood Dance Project, guest singers Elizabeth Stanley and Jason Graae from New York, and a jazz combo. From the minute the curtain opened with dancers and singers languidly sitting on rows of chairs—a head tilted, a leg shooting out, a torso twisted—with the musicians at the background—you knew you were going to be swept into something special.
Dance and singing blend seamlessly. To set the mood for Christmas, Mr. Graae places a small red present on a chair, singing “All of Me,” while Ms. Stanley, in gorgeous green floor-length ball gown, graciously accepts the gift. They disappear in a trice, and six dancers take the stage. Joy Adkins Bollinger, Kimi Nikaidoh and Nycole Ray wear similar cocktail party dresses in crimson; Albert Drake, Harry Feril and Christopher Vo are in matching black tie. In a small space, the dancing has been contained with a great deal of intricate arm and hand movement, nimble switches in direction, and slow, luscious lifts where the ascent and descent look so effortless that the women seem to float.
Wood’s talent to create great tension and then release it shows through every dance, whether it’s in smart footwork, elaborate arm gestures or the outburst of energy as Drake, Feril and Vo catapult across stage, sweeping each other up and around in expanding arches, or even in the simple scene where Bollinger and Ray do little but pose seductively on chairs.
Celebrating Christmas in a secular fashion with songs like “Happy Holiday,” “Please Come Home for Christmas” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the mood switches from giddy expectation to wistful yearning. Stanley offers glamor and warmth and a sly sense of humor, most notably in “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” where she ends up pulling the shivering Mr. Graae to her bosom. She can sing full throttle or drop to almost a whisper.
But it is Mr. Graae who pulls the act together with his impish charm and equally well-trained voice. He has a great deal of fun with a satirical rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with lines interspersed throughout the show.
As the evening wears on, the lights get dimmer, the mood more thoughtful and the music more evocative. Credit for this singular event goes to artistic director and choreographer Wood, music director Jasper Grant, producer Larry Lane and costume designer John Ahrens.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.