PLAYBILL PLAYLIST: Michael Cerveris, Julia Murney, Annie Golden, "Joe Iconis & Family" Pick Favorite Holiday Tunes
By Michael Gioia
The 6th Annual Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular, featuring Joe Iconis & Family — who describe themselves as a "merry band of musical theatre punks" — is held Dec. 20-21 at 54 Below. In celebration of the annual holiday event, members of the "family" pick their favorite holiday tunes as part of this week's Playbill Playlist.
Directed by John Simpkins and produced by Jennifer Ashley Tepper, shows are offered Dec. 20-21 at 8 PM and 11 PM.
The Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular features special guests Annie Golden, Alice Ripley (Dec. 20 at 8 PM only), Julia Murney (Dec. 20 at 11 PM only) and Michael Cerveris & Loose Cattle (Dec. 21 at 11 PM only).
Iconis "Family Members" who return for the sixth annual Spectacular include Nick Blaemire, Ally Bonino, Jimmy Brewer, Liz Lark Brown, Livie Casto, Sarah Cetrulo, Harrison Chad, Bill Coyne, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Seth Eliser, Badia Farha, Alexandra Ferrara, Josh Greenblatt, Aaron Simon Gross, Molly Hager, Dennis Michael Keefe, Jessica Kent, Emily Kratter, Rachel Lee, Lorinda LIsitza, Lauren Marcus, Julia Mattison, Eric William Morris, Jeremy Morse (Dec. 20-21 at 11 PM only), Ray Munoz, James Penca, Kailey Prior, Rob Rokicki, Ashley Rodbro, Krysta Rodriguez (Dec. 20 at 11 PM only), Will Roland (Dec. 20 only), Charlie Rosen, Mike Rosengarten, Lance Rubin, George Salazar, Katie Schorr, George Slotin, Heather Stinson, Rachel Sussman, Taylor Trensch (Dec. 20-21 at 11 PM only), Brandon Uranowitz, Kaylee Verble, Jared Weiss, Jason "SweetTooth" Williams and Ross Wolkenbrod.
According to press notes, "Joe Iconis and his merry band of musical theatre punks are back by popular demand in this sixth annual insane celebration of all things red and green. Featuring brand new holiday songs, old favorites, tiny elves, enormous reindeer, an inebriated Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and an ungodly number of candy canes, it promises to be the happiest holiday hoedown you've ever seen."
Iconis, whose musical The Black Suits was recently seen at the Center Theatre Group, also penned the Drama Desk Award-nominated Bloodsong of Love, ReWrite and The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks as well as the theatrical concert Things to Ruin. His songs also appeared on the second season of the NBC musical drama "Smash." Read more about his work in Playbill.com's Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know.
54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street. Tickets are $25-$35. For more information and tickets, priced $25-$35, call (866) 468-7619 or visit 54Below.com.
Joe Iconis: "Christmastime" (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn). The gang and I perform many of my favorite Christmas songs in our show. This one is a bit too down-in-the-dumps for our spirited celebration, but I do love it so. So sad, so beautiful, it sounds like A Very Wristcutter's Christmas to me. The line "And on the tree all the ornaments go/Tinsel will cover where the branches don't grow" is worth the price of admission.
Jennifer Ashley Tepper: "Celebrate Christmas With Me" (Joe Iconis and Family). My absolute favorite Christmas song is "Celebrate Christmas With Me," the big original tune that is always featured in our annual Iconis Spectacular. The song was written by my friends Joe Iconis, Lance Rubin, Jason SweetTooth Williams and Matt Hinkley, and is performed here by those guys, along with the amazing Ian Kagey and Brent Stranathan.
Every year for six years, at least one audience member tells me after the show how much they enjoyed that Christmas standard, "Celebrate Christmas With Me." And, I say, "JOE AND THE FAMILY WROTE THAT!" That moment is my own inadvertent Christmas tradition…
And my other Christmas tradition is singing along at the top of my I'm-A-Producer-Not-A-Performer lungs, from the audience, every time this song happens in the show. What can I say? The tune really gets me in the spirit. "You gotta get a Christmas tree..."
Molly Hager: "Blue Christmas" (Elvis Presley). One of my favorite Christmas songs of all time is "Blue Christmas" sung by Elvis Presley! It brings back memories of all of the wonderful Christmases past that I've spent with my Dad, and it also shows the sexier side of Christmas (an important side… Unrelated to Dad). Also, this YouTube video is AMAZING because of all of the screaming and groaning from female Elvis fans.
Katrina Rose Dideriksen: "It Feels Like Christmas" (The Muppets). Nothing says Christmas like Muppets and Michael Cain… But, even more importantly, it really is TRUE — Wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.
Badia Farha: "This Christmas" (Donny Hathaway). The song is a classic that is played every Christmas. It has been covered by so many artists, but no one does it better than Donny himself! Guaranteed to put a smile on your face and get you in the Holiday Spirit!
Liz Lark Brown: "A Christmas Together 1979" (John Denver and The Muppets). I spent a while trying to think of my favorite Christmas song and, instead, realized that Christmas is not Christmas without hearing the album based on the John Denver and The Muppets – "A Christmas Together" TV special — the whole thing. The Muppets are where I got my first ideas of "show business" and the backstage goings-on as well as witty wordplay and goofiness all rolled together. It is childhood; it is nostalgia; it is also very close to what Joe puts together with The Family… although Fozzie never ran blue.
Jason "SweetTooth" Williams: "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (Brenda Lee). …One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs! I'm a sucker for Christmas tunes with a 50s/60s sound, in general. Of course, this song also carries some serious "Home Alone" nostalgia, and the saxophone solo is just so bad-a$$.
Lauren Marcus: "Christmases When You Were Mine" (Taylor Swift). A modern classic. This is also my favorite Christmas song to cover when playing gigs around holiday time!
Lance Rubin: "It Snowed" (Meaghan Smith). This song is about snow and not specific to any holiday, but I first discovered it on an iTunes Holiday Sampler a few years ago, so that means it counts. I love the strong presence of horns in this song and its overall vibe of easygoing sophistication. It evokes the childlike feeling of joy and triumph inspired by a snow day, but in a very adult way. Also, it's one of the few holiday songs you can continue to listen to in January without feeling depressed that you're living in the past.
Nick Blaemire: "Santa Claus is Comin to Town" (Jackson 5). Hearing this was the first time I realized Christmas was cooler than my grandma's yearly sweaters and that songs could be arranged a different way than the original. Lil' Michael is basically ordering Santa to hurry up and come to town, or else he will withhold the groove.
Michael Cerveris: "Merry Christmas From the Family" (Robert Earl Keen). One of my favorite songwriters, Robert Earl Keen's "Merry Christmas From The Family" is my favorite Christmas song. Most people I know don't have Hallmark families. This carol is for the rest of us. And, after all, wasn't the whole point that Jesus was born into the humblest of families? Maybe a trailer home is the modern day manger. We're definitely recording it for our Loose Cattle Christmas album next year… So ¡Feliz Navidad! from all of us.
Lorinda Lisitza: "This Christmas" (Donny Hathaway). It's a little-known fact that I actually appear on a Christmas album called "Miracle" by my friend Stefano, which you can get at Amazon, etc. It's loaded with original Christmas tunes and some covers… and, boy, did we go crazy. From a sexy duet, to some of the most Jim Steinman-like arrangements ever invented… But, one of my favorite X-mas tunes is Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." The horns! The vocals! It's perfection and always makes me smile.
Jared Weiss: "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" by Arlo Guthrie. It's 20 minutes long and has absolutely nothing to do with Xmas, but I can't get through a December 25th without listening to it at least several times.
Jeremy Morse: "Little St Nick" (The Beach Boys). I remember singing an a cappella version in my choir in middle school called "7th Heaven." I had a rat-tail at the time, and it was just awesome.
Eric William Morris: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Annie Golden). "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is always best when sung by the Rock-and-Roll Christmas Angel: Annie Golden.
Annie Golden: "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home" (Darlene Love). I would say "Christmas, Baby Please Come Home" because this year marks Darlene Love's 27th year singing it live on "Late Show with David Letterman," and I have participated in at least seven of those performances! And, I got to back her up on Broadway and Off in The Leader of the Pack! That song holds up just like the woman who sings it year after year!
Or I might say "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from your rock-n-roll Christmas Angel cause Judy Garland sang it in the film "Meet Me in St. Louis," and Garland is an idol of mine. That tune is a classic and just heavenly, yo!
Taylor Trensch: "It Feels Like Christmas" from The Muppet Christmas Carol!
George Salazar: My favorite song of the season is a relatively new one that kind of nails what the holidays mean to me! It's Julia Mattison's "Santa is the Ultimate Creeper" off her 2012 Christmas album available on iTunes!
Rachel Sussman: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (Judy Garland). My favorite is, without a doubt, Judy Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from the 1944 classic "Meet Me in St. Louis." Judy can do no wrong in my book. It's shot so beautifully — Judy's Esther is all aglow and misty-eyed trying to soothe her little sister Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien. It gets my heart every time.
Katie Schorr: "I Was Thinking I Could Clean Up For Christmas" (Aimee Mann). There's a moment (or an hour, or maybe 72 hours) during the holidays when listening to "Let It Snow" does not properly align with where one's soul is at. This is a perfect, melancholy song for that kind of moment. To me, this song's about feeling stuck and in between worlds, which is how often I feel right before the New Year. Let the hypnotic Mann chords wash over you, contemplate how everything sucks and then go suck on a peppermint candy cane. Happy Christmas!
Will Roland: "Snoopy's Christmas" (The Royal Guardsman). I like it because it has three of my favorite things: Snoopy, a catchy hook and World War II.
Julia Murney: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (The Broadway Inspirational Voices). The first Christmas music I listen to every year is the album "Great Joy" by the Broadway Inspirational Voices. They move me, they send me, and they fill me with the super Yuletide spirit!
Ashley Rodbro: "Last Christmas" (Wham!). I heard the song for the first time when I was a freshman in high school, right after my best friend got her driver's license, and we would drive around town and try to find it on the radio. Hearing it makes me really nostalgic and reminds me of being home for the holidays, plus who doesn't love all the 80s hairstyles in the music video?!
Rachel Lee: "Done Esta Santa Claus?" (Augie Rios). As a Southern California native, I have never personally experienced a White Christmas. Instead, my family often goes to Disneyland on Christmas Eve (where it snows bubbles on Main Street… Totally the same thing as real snow, right?) and the beach on Christmas Day. For some strange reason, this song reminds me of the Surfing Santa decorations on my neighbors' lawns, 70-degree weather in the winter and general west-coast merriment.
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