Mae West has been credited with saying, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.” But she has also been credited with saying, “Too much of a good thing can be taxing.” In the case of Welkome Home for the Holidays, a revue playing at the Welk Resort through December 29, 2019, I’d side with Ms. West’s latter statement.
In a program note, Director and Co-Creator Larry Raben (with Co-Director and Co-Creator Noelle Marion, and Choreographer and Co-Creator Cheryl Baxter-Ratliff) noted that San Diego’s Welk Resort Theatre has a tradition of presenting variety shows for the Christmas holidays. Mr. Raben also noted that the idea was to create the show in the style of the Dean Martin Christmas Specials, which featured holiday songs mixed with jazz and Broadway tunes.
And so, it was. Built around Days of our Lives star Eric Martsolf, Act 1 imagines him starring in a new holiday special in the style of Dean Martin. Act 2 presents the actual special, complete with the Act 1 idea that Eric should audition an audience member to be his new girlfriend on Days of our Lives.
There’s lots of trying-out of material by the large cast in Act 1. Eric’s male pals are played by Jacob Caltrider, Luke Harvey Jacobs, and Sean Thomas Kiralla. The women are more numerous. Some are primarily solo singers, and others form the basis for Ms. Baxter-Ratliff’s dances. The women performers are Kya Cafaro, Misty Cotton, Shirley Johnston, Bethany Slomka, Leslie Stevens, Erica Marie Weisz, and Andrea Williams. Music Director Allen Everman leads a three-piece on-stage combo and also solos several times during the performance.
Act 2 is more structured and features songs that might have been seen on television specials in the 1960s (including the famous Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand combination of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again.”) A game audience member was selected to audition (by reading off of cue cards) with Eric, and the woman who came up on stage was delightful (and so natural that it was unlikely she was a plant). The cast also invited the children in the audience to come up on stage for a visit from Santa and a sing-along “Silent Night.”
Act 2 by itself just about matched the snappy, hour-long, Dean Martin Christmas Specials. But, add in all of the material covered in Act 1 and you get two-hours and fifteen minutes of nonstop holiday cheer, covering 41 songs. If that’s your thing, have at it. The cast is talented enough and obliging enough at the very least to outdo your TV set with the Yule log and the all-Christmas channel on your satellite radio.
Mr. Martsolf made for a laid-back and jovial host, and his rich baritone subbed well for Mr. Martin’s whiskey-tinged sound. The ballads worked best, and Mr. Everman did two from the piano (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Christmastime is Here”) that particularly registered. What worked least well was putting several women together and letting them collectively belt, Broadway-style. Fortunately, several of the Act 2 songs blended much more nicely.
Red proved to be a primary color, for each of Rory Brown’s set design and Janet Pitcher’s costume design. Jennifer Edwards’ lighting design and Rory Brown’s sound design made all that red look appealing.
Under Mr. Raben’s artistic direction, the Welk is still finding its feet again after closing for a time to remodel and regroup. It currently has four musicals scheduled for 2020: A Chorus Line, Nunsense, Monty Python’s Spamalot, and Elf. The talent it’s assembled for this revue bodes well going forward.