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December 15, 2011

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Concert recap: Raul Esparza, Sierra Boggess rock ASTEP New York City Christmas

by Jesse North

raul esparza astep new york city christmas concert joe's pub public theaterRaul Esparza shook his ass, Sherie Rene Scott compared Lindsay Mendez to her right breast, and Seth Numrich showed up to announce he can’t sing. Yes, everyone was in the holiday spirit at ASTEP’s fourth annual New York City Christmas concert at Joe’s Pub December 12. (An album of songs featured in the concert is available on iTunes and at Sh-K-Boom Records.) The evening of Broadway A-listers performing Christmas songs to innovative arrangements proved as solid and gorgeous as ever, mixed in with a lot of good humor. Here’s what went down.

Sherie Rene Scott, Lindsay Mendez, and Betsy Wolfe (previously seen together in Everyday Rapture) kicked off the show with Mariah Carey’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” in such sassy, female rocker fashion, it made me wish the three would form a permanent girl rock group. The bond between the three women seemed strong, as their chemistry flared during their feisty number and between songs, they exchanged playful banter. Scott told a story in which an early scene for Everyday Rapture had Mendez and Wolfe playing her breasts, with character names simply “Left” and “Right.” Scott credited her strong relationship with Mendez saying, “Lindsay will always be my Right.”

VIDEO: Sherie Rene Scott, Lindsay Mendez, and Betsie Wolfe sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

Andy Karl, currently appearing in Jersey Boys, did Rob Thomas justice with “New York Christmas,” which was arranged in a mashup with “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Later on, he returned to the stage with his wife, past Legally Blonde costar Orfeh, when they dueted with “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Christmas In America.” Orfeh appropriately blew out at least a few Christmas light bulbs in the tree out in the Public’s lobby.

Sierra Boggess of the West End’s Love Never Dies and the upcoming Broadway musical Rebecca showed her pretty face twice to sing a pair of songs. First up with Mendez (currently in Godspell), the pair sang a mashup of “Still, Still, Still” and “The First Noel,” which was so mind-bendingly melodic that it personified exactly what the peaceful Christmas Eve of your dreams feels like. Boggess then returned to the stage, accompanied by her sister Summer Boggess on the cello, to sing one of the Christmas canon’s most beautifully somber tunes, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

VIDEO: Sierra Boggess and Lindsay Mendez sing a mashup of “Still, Still, Still” and “The First Noel”

Introducing numerous performers were a couple of Broadway stars who showed up to charm with their words, rather than their musical talents. Brooke Shields, currently starring in The Addams Family, was there to support Addams music director Mary Mitchell Campbell and Esparza, her Leap of Faith costar. Appearing greatly humbled by the night, Shields sang the praises of ASTEP, an organization that gets artists involved to creatively stimulate the youth in poverty-stricken populations. Also a speaker of the evening was Seth Numrich of War Horse, who appeared in appropriate attire for a Spring Awakening audition. He was present to extol the good deeds of ASTEP; he was not there to sing­—something he made clear to the audience of which he had no ability.

Over the course of the evening, Boggess stunned with her beauty, Mendez scatted the audience into oblivion, and Chester Gregory (currently in Sister Act) shattered windowpanes in the upper east side with his high notes. Yet despite these Broadway veterans’ fantastic performances, I am taken year after year by music director and co-host Lynne Shankel. As organizer of the concert and the orchestrator of these fresh arrangements of Christmas classics, Shankel’s adorable introductions and anecdotes consistently make a case for her being one of the coolest ladies on Broadway. Her rapport with the performers is built up of cute exchange upon even cuter exchange (particularly with Esparza). She’s so into what she does that it’s simply fascinating just to watch her accompany a singer on the piano. This year, however, Shankel joined in on a group vocal performance. Who knew this woman could sing! Lynne Shankel, congratulations; you just won the You Can Do Everything Award. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yet this recap must be ended with a recount of what happened when Mr. Esparza took the stage. (In fact, all concert recaps should probably end with Raul Esparza.) Esparza’s concert billing is what attracted me to the first New York City Christmas concert in 2008, where he famously set fire to the stage with an English/Spanish version of “O Holy Night,” which I have been watching obsessively for years now. The four-time Tony nominee performed that burning ember of a Christmas tune again this year, but he added another marvel that he collaborated with Shankel on arranging. In a mashup with “Winter Wonderland,” Esparza sang “In The Bleak Midwinter,” a song that does not share the hyper cheeriness of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” in the slightest. As most of us know, the holidays aren’t always the happiest time of year. This pensive, sacred-sounding melody merged with Esparza’s yearning voice to create a musical definition of what Christmastime depression feels like. This is a song you curl up under your Christmas tree and cry to, with only the light from the decorative, colored bulbs to illuminate your tears. And it is glorious! Esparza’s rendition proved that Christmas isn’t always presents and candy canes, but even its emotional pitfalls can be beautiful.

VIDEO: Raul Esparza sings a mashup of “In The Bleak Midwinter” and “Winter Wonderland”

Were you at ASTEP’s New York City Christmas concert, Rushers? Whose performance was your favorite? Do you gravitate toward the rosy-cheeked, giddy songs of Christmas? Or do you prefer thoughtful, introverted tunes of the holiday season? Who would you like to see perform at next year’s concert? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and tune into this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV for bonus footage from the concert!

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Liz Joyce
    Dec 15 2011

    You didn’t mention how Raul E. so expertly sexed up Winter Wonderland :)

    Reply
  2. Linda
    Dec 15 2011

    Nice recap, but you should have anticipated that I would want video of Andy Karl.

    Reply
    • Dec 15 2011

      Linda: I’ll have clips of both Andy Karls’ performances in SRTV tomorrow.

      Reply
  3. Dec 15 2011

    All I want for Christmas is Raul Esparza in our own Winter Wonderland!!

    Reply
  4. Karen
    Dec 15 2011

    Although we’ve all seen the youtube videos of the two previous performances of “O Holy Night” (over and over and over again), is there one forthcoming from Monday’s performance? We could all use a bit more Raul!

    Reply
    • Dec 15 2011

      Karen: We could ALWAYS use a bit more Raul; I like your thinking! I will be posting Raul’s performance of “O Holy Night” from Monday’s concert on the Stage Rush YouTube channel next week. So please check back on the YouTube channel for it! I’ll also be tweeting about it when I post it. Thanks!

      Reply
      • Karen
        Jan 5 2012

        Hey, Jesse — sure you’re busy. Just checking on if you were going to be able to post the O Holy Night performance. I’ve checked the YouTube channel and haven’t seen it yet. Thanks!

        Reply

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