Flat Rock Playhouse‘s new production, A Motown Christmas, is a tight two-hour show. It covers a number of predictable holiday classics — “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty The Snowman,” “Santa Clause is Coming To Town” and religious standards like “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” “Silent Night” and “Joy To The World.” The show features the vocal talents of Lavance Colley and LaVon Fisher-Wilson, as well as an impressive line up of back up vocalists. It would have been nice if the playbill had listed all the songs, as well as the names of the back up singers, but one powerful moment was Colley’s performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Someday At Christmas.”
The show, an original creation, is a brilliant new concept and addition to the holiday theater menu. Alex Shields, who plays keyboard in the band, also arranged the music, spicing things up in inventive ways. More concert than theater, the stage design includes a nice-sized dance floor. That space enticed audience members on more than one occasion to get up and get down.
In fact, everything about A Motown Christmas is a recipe for a perfect, fun-filled evening of celebration. However, something was slightly off. The audience, for all of its desire to embrace the show, never got comfortable enough to let their hair down fully.
Part of the problem is that the singers were all trapped behind music stands for most of the show, and could be seen turning pages at times. This gave too much of a sense of formality. Also, the choice of song order felt a bit lopsided: The show opened with some high energy tunes, then took an intermission that felt a bit early. In the second half, there were a lot of slower songs that brought down the energy in the room. Some perfect songs were left out in favor of more religious Christmas songs — there was no “Rocking Around The Christmas Tree,” no “Baby Please Come Home” and no “White Christmas.” In fact, at times the show got a long way away from its Motown theme.
Plus, the show seemingly lacked a script or a narrative design, which led to the cast winging some of the chat between songs.
Don’t get me wrong: the production is good, the music is great, and with a little more tinkering and refining, A Motown Christmas could become a Holiday staple.
A Motown Christmas continues its run at the Playhouse Downtown location through Sunday, Dec. 21. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. $24.