There's a bright tuneful present under the tree right now, wrapped up in five shiny voices accompanied by a swinging jazz quartet. This is, of course, Music Box Theater's seasonal revue, A Beatles Holiday Cabaret, a sublime mash-up of Christmas tunes mixed with Beatle standards. It might sound odd but never underestimate the Fab Five when they get their pipes around the Fab Four. This is one present you won't re-gift.
Music Box has patented the form in Christmas shows past, but this edition sparkles like no other. Is it possible that our intrepid quintet (Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor, and Luke Wrobel), the finest singing performers to be found in Houston, is at the top of its game? Could it be the improv-like arrangements from Austin Biel (keyboards and guitar), Mark McCain (lead guitar), Arthur Gilligan (percussion), and Long Le (bass guitar) that wrap these classic songs so tenderly in lush embrace? Could it be the bottomless mimosas? I suspect it's the first two, because not even alcohol could dim the star wattage we hear on stage. If turned into energy, the sheer talent could light up Houston's power grid through the fiercest storm. These five aren't just Fab, they're magic.
Now about those mash-ups. How about "O Come All Ye Faithful" paired with "Revolution"? We Three Kings" offset hauntingly against "Eleanor Rigby"? "The First Noel" with "Here Comes the Sun"? Or "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" mixed with "Dear Prudence"? Yes, traditional and pop carols mesh brilliantly with the Beatles in emotional heft, tone, and style. Sure it's mighty different, yet absolutely right in its own way.
And besides, who else could croon "I'll Be Home For Christmas" like the deep-dish mellow-voiced Wrobel and infuse that old chestnut with such intensity; or render "O Holy Night" with such beatific sound as Taylor; or impressively wail "Come Together's" grunge-filled rhapsody about flat top's joo joo eyeballs like Dahl; or invoke the crystalline stillness of the "First Noel" as crisply as Sullivan; or Scarborough singing anything near the outer limits of the stratosphere? Then in more showstopping feats, they will sing together “a cappella” in dense harmony and pristine timbre like in Obladi-Oblada while the band claps along in rhythm.
When not soloing, the others join in the background, harmonizing as backup with synchronized dance moves. They're almost as much fun to watch as to listen to. They are complete entertainers and their joy in performing is infectious.
Perhaps the most impressive song all evening was Danny Maseng's soaring prayer of Shabbat, "Elohai N'tzor,"sung to celebrate Hanukkah. The five surpassed themselves with haloed reverence, simply accompanied by piano and guitar arpeggios that wafted through the intimate theater on angel wings.
This incomparable Christmas revue is spiked with yuletide warmth, superb musicianship from singers and band, and festive showbiz spirits to infuse the season. Music Box is rated No.1 Thing to Do in Houston by TripAdviser, and it's so easy to see why. Go see for yourself and have a merry musical Christmas present that'll ring in your holidays.
A Beatles Holiday Cabaret continues through December 28 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. December 21, 22, 23 and December 27 and 28 at Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. For more information, call 713-522-7722 or visit the musicboxtheater.com. $35-$48.