Gorilla Theatre has a knack for coming up with sophisticated entertainments that you won't find at other bay area venues.
Its latest gem is December Songs, a song cycle by Broadway composer Maury Yeston, performed by soprano Lynne Locher and pianist Jason Tucker as one half of a holiday double bill, "A Gorilla Winter.''
The other half is an early Thornton Wilder play, The Long Christmas Dinner, a slight work that anticipates the greatness to come in Our Town.
Yeston, a onetime professor of music theory at Yale, composed the scores of Nine, Grand Hotel and Titanic. But for all the success of those shows, he tends to fly somewhat below the cultural radar screen.
December Songs (inspired by Schubert's Die Winterreise) is a good example of his gift for smart, listenable music and craftsmanlike approach to a lyric.
Originally written for Andrea Marcovicci, the 10 songs chronicle a woman's response to the breakup of a relationship, from the anguished December Snow to the nakedly emotional I Am Longing to the acceptance of By the River to the hard-earned joy of What a Relief.
Locher performs Yeston's cycle cabaret-style on a set that includes a lamp post, a park bench and a few other pieces.
Each song is like a window on the woman's soul, and the soprano brings passionate conviction to a song such as My Grandmother's Love Letters, which has the power of a symphony.
In a beautifully sung performance, Locher takes the audience on a satisfying emotional journey, with Tucker as the perfect supportive companion.
There isn't a lot to The Long Christmas Dinner, with a cast of eight directed by Nancy Cole, but its portrayal of a family's holidays over several generations has a darkness and stylistic daring that is pure Wilder.
As an unconventional fable, it's not a bad way to mark the season.
To wind up the evening, Tucker, Locher and the other performers lead a singalong of Christmas carols in the parking lot.
John Fleming can be reached at (727) 893-8716 or email@example.com.
'A Gorilla Winter'
The show runs through Dec. 17 at Gorilla Theatre, 4419 N Hubert Ave., Tampa. $15-$25; student rush tickets are $10 30 minutes before curtain. (813) 879-2914; www.gorillatheatre.com.