Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Paisley Sisters' Christmas Special"

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note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey

Faux Nostalgia at The I C A

by Beverly Creasey

If the Paisley Sisters were in a Star Trek episode, they'd be the Lennon Sisters' malevolent alter egos. More likely, they are what the creators of "The Paisley Sisters' Christmas Special" suspect the Lennon Sisters were really like beyond the reach of cameras.

Jim Ansart, Joel Benjamin and Bret Silverman have written almost two dozen delightful "original '50s " songs for a send-up of those endless television "specials" of the late '50s and early '60s featuring "wholesome" whitebread family acts.

If you're sending up an era, you either have to present material as earnest and honest as the real thing --- like the radio show in "Annie" --- or you commit to all out satire. "The Paisley Sisters' Christmas Special aims for the latter, hitting the bullseye a couple of times --- namely with the naughty "Two Holidays" song celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah for all the wrong reasons. They rhyme the wonderfully wicked "Mama's in the kitchen getting hot" with "[ while ] Papa's ready for Friday night Shabbat." Satire with a bite is great fun. When they over-syncopate some traditional carols, it's savagely funny.

But Steve Silverman's book --- despite help from Ansart, Benjamin, and brother Joel Silverman --- is lamentably toothless. They have a cute idea --- involving the dangerous chemicals we inhaled with abandon in the '50s coming from companies which manufactured napalm and foaming cleanser in the same factories --- but the punch gets lost in plot confusions. At one point they even break form, stepping out of the "broadcast" conceit to have one of the sisters sing her thoughts, Broadway musical style. Then, inexplicably, they go back the "televised concert" scheme. If they had just showcased the songs, like the "Patsy Cline" mock radio-broadcast did, with a minimum of chat, then they'd have had a charming evening of faux nostalgia.

The singers, happily, are top notch, with sparkly direction by Sheila Stasak and cleverly corny choreography by Ceit McCaleb. Sara Mills-Broffman's identical period costumes are a hoot all by themselves with their yards and yards of stiff petticoats and pert, ladylike bows --- not to mention Robert Cassis' bevy of bouffant wigs.

Sheila Rehrig is terrifically brassy as Lonnie, a Shirley McLaine lookalike who doesn't much like her teenage niece stepping in for an ailing mom. Rebecca Bellingham is simply adorable as that spunky upstart who looks, of course, like Sandra Dee, and who sings the sweet "Age of Aquarius"-influenced "Christmas on The Moon".

Amanda Baker gets to deliver the knockout "Two Holidays" and Amy Rivenbark --- who looks just like a teenaged Shirley Temple --- sings sensationally and go berserk. What more could an actress want?

A photo montage at the end of the show updates three Sisters. What's next? The Paisley Sisters at Radio City for the Easter show? or perhaps a Paisley Sisters USO Tour to Vietnam? The mind boggles...

"The Paisley Sisters' Christmas Special" (till 2 January)
ICA Theater, 955 Boylston Street, BOSTON

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