By Robert Bethune
Now we come to “Hymn & Carol” at the BoarsHead Theater. Good thing that “y” is in there, or the United Grammarians of America would declare syntactic jihad. As for the rest of us, we can take comfort that when the title phrase shows up, it’s perfectly correct and life is good.
The show by Paul Slade Smith is a straightforward revue on a Nativity theme. The structure is a simple alternation between music on Christmas themes and monologues that put anachronistic modern twists on the traditional Nativity stories. It doesn’t actually add up to much, but the monologues do offer genuine wit. In the funniest one, we hear Herod’s speechwriters figure out how to spin the Wise Men. They decide that the palace line will be about “foreigners with funny names dressed in long robes wandering around in the desert looking for little boys.” Take that, Peggy Noonan!
The production values to make this an enjoyable evening are all here, from an interesting and versatile set by Ted O. Rhyner to crisp and purposeful direction by Kristine Thatcher. The ensemble sings very well as a group with a delightful choral blend, though some individual voices are not strong alone. The cast delivers the monologues with skill. I particularly enjoyed Sharriese Hamilton’s fine, clear solo voice and her movingly restrained performance as a mother whose child is murdered in the Slaughter of the Innocents. Ruth Crawford sings a gently, memorably husky take on Joni Mitchell’s “River.”
So, is this the way to put yourself in the Christmas spirit? It might be; if so, it will be more the performances than the material, and more the music, nicely conducted by John Dale Smith, than the text. It’s clever, it’s funny, sometimes moving, but it may not quite reach as deeply into you as you might wish.
In this rather scary Christmas season, the comforts offered here may feel a little thin, like hot chocolate that’s not quite warm enough.
‘Hymn & Carol’
BoarsHead Theater, 425 S. Grand Ave., Lansing. Wednesday – Sunday through Dec. 21. Tickets: $12-$30. For information: 517-484-7805 or http://www.boarshead.org