"A Holiday Cabaret" at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Friday night was a marvelous seasonal gift to cabaret fans. Better than that, it offered convincing evidence to dispel the too-readily held notion that Los Angeles is a cabaret wasteland.
Far from it. In a set of performances that were as sophisticated and literate as they were humorous and entertaining, a long line of Southland-based artists combined wit and whimsy with just the right touch of seasonal sentimentality in a benefit program for the Para Los Nin~os family service agency.
After a touching opening number in which a harp ensemble of angelic-looking little girls played "Carol of the Bells," the 2 1/2-hour program moved from one highlight to another. The gifted singer Maureen McGovern then set the pace for the evening at a high level with a medley based on "Winter Wonderland," followed by a crystal-clear rendering of "Auld Lang Syne." In both cases she brought a rich emotional texture to the familiar songs, using her vocal skills to uncover the essence of the material.
The evening's more humorous numbers were imaginative flights of fancy. Among the best: Roy Zimmerman and Melanie Harby offering the precautionary advice, "Don't Let Grandma Cook Christmas Dinner"; D.C. Anderson's "Department Stores Mean Christmas to Me"; and Alan Chapman and Karen Benjamin presenting an alternative holiday view, "Christmas Isn't Just for Christians" ("Deck the halls with loads of challah"). Chapman and Benjamin's bass-playing son, Ritt Henn, added his own Christmas problem, "All Choked Up," to the mix, and singer Dale Kristien (from "The Phantom of the Opera") went dramatically against type with "Santa, Baby."
The program also featured attractive performances from singers Amanda McBroom, singing a just-completed Christmas number, Lee Lessack, Ann Kerry Ford, Kate Peters, Teresa Tudury and George Ball. Pianist John Boswell and harpist Carolyn Sykes contributed a lushly harmonized version of "What Child Is This." And Albert Hague, who wrote the music for the "Grinch" television specials, accompanied his wife, Renee Orin, in two Dr. Seuss-derived tunes.