SARASOTA — ‘Twas a chilly December night around Asolo Rep’s new Terrace Stage.
Folks bundled up in furs and blankets, waiting to be engaged.
When the show began with a fanfare of music and lights, it was quite clear this would be a great night.
We Need a Little Christmas is Asolo Repertory Theatre’s first live performance since March. The company took advantage of its sprawling outdoor square footage and transformed the theater’s stately front terrace into a stage.
A lighting system amid the audience illuminates the stage, and a variety of dazzling projections on the building become the set. Kudos to lighting designer Ethan Vail and projection designers Aaron Rhyne and Kevan Loney. The Dec. 18 opening night show was a festive sight to behold, with the building lit up in red, green and blue.
The cabaret-style holiday concert was conceived by directors Michael Donald Edwards and Celine Rosenthal with music director/arranger Steve Orich and actor Matthew McGee. It’s inspired by the number in the musical Mame, We Need a Little Christmas. The character Mame sings of breaking out the Christmas decorations despite it being early for the season because she needs some cheer (right this very minute!). We can all relate this year.
About 200 people came to the opening night performance, which speaks to the hunger for live performance. Seating has been spaced out for social distancing and there aren’t any concessions. Masks must be worn at all times, which guests are reminded of preshow with humorous messages.
The show is heavy on cheer, humor and immense talent. Many favorite song lyrics have been changed to reference the pandemic. And thanks to the emceeing of McGee in drag, there’s a healthy dose of camp and catty wit. McGee comes out as Auntie Claus in a red sequined pantsuit and later returns as Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand, belting out Cabaret and Happy Days Are Here Again.
The rest of the cast members — Peter Amster, Jenny Kim-Godfrey, Eileen Lymus and Ann Morrison — are each uniquely talented and are given a chance to shine individually. When the entire company performs together, their chemistry is palpable even while they keep 6 feet apart.
They were accompanied by a live, tight band consisting of percussionist Jon Berger, Judi Glover on keyboard, Steve Orich on conducting and piano and bass player Bill Swartzbaugh.
Kim-Godfrey sings with operatic splendor on a goosebump-inducing version of O Holy Night.
Lymus’ rendition of All I Want for Christmas is You is every bit as good as Mariah Carey’s, and maybe better.
Amster’s voice is perfectly suited to croon I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.
Morrison nails Santa Baby with a performance reminiscent of a Jazz Age flapper.
It’s not all Christmas songs. Lymus sings a number, All Purpose Carol, that encompasses her celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. When Amster, Lymus and Morrison perform Light One Candle, projections of burning candles flicker across the back of the stage.
At just over an hour with no intermission, We Need a Little Christmas is like a Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cake. It‘s a comforting holiday treat with just the perfect amount of sweetness.
If you go
We Need a Little Christmas runs through Jan. 3. Ticket prices start at $25 for blanket seating (bring your own) and at $40 for chair seating. 5555 N Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 941-351-8000 or 800-361-8388. asolorep.org.