This year has been so busy, I hadn't really had time to absorb the Christmas spirit. I had just noted earlier yesterday that it didn't feel like Christmas was three days away. Then, I went to see "A Very Lillian Baxter Christmas" and got an extreme dose of what was missing.
John Vessels brings his alter ego Lillian Baxter to the stage with a Christmas revue at Louisville's newest theater venue "Vault 1031" at 1031 Sixth Street. The hopeful venue used to be an armored car building and is undergoing a transformation as owners Jon Huffman and Barb Cullen raise funds for completion. The unfinished theater room may have concrete walls and an incomplete ceiling, but put in a nice set, a stage, some booze, and a room full of people watching real talent and you've got a show...and what a show it was.
Jay Schwandt accompanies Baxter from behind the piano as "Moeshe", a Jewish pianist brought in "last minute" who keeps throwing a bit of his cultural flavoring into the songs, much to the chagrin of Baxter and amusement of the audience. Moishe was brought in to replace one of her seven ex-husbands (all of whom she loves very dearly.) The stockings on the piano marked "Lillian" and "TBA" were a nice touch. Baxter's voice will keep you in awe, while her expressions and anecdotes are as entertaining as a full cast of characters. She shows herself to be a master of her musical craft as well as subtle physical comedy. She even steps out for some audience interaction, showing off how quick she can be on her feet.
"Hey, honey...do you remember any special family traditions from your childhood?"
"Do you remember anything from this Christmas...heck, do you remember anything from today?"
Schwandt keeps right up with an impressive display of musical talent of his own and has his own slew of confused and overwhelmed facial expressions, evoking pity from the audience as he tries to keep up with the bouyant Baxter. The most surprising and hilarious number of the show is when Baxter begins to sing "Let it Snow" and suddenly Moishe begins throwing in bars from "Fiddler on the Roof", surprising her but failing to throw her off from her own performance. The mash up was brilliant. Moishe continues to throw in songs that are unrelated to Christmas until Baxter notes he has trouble with Christmas songs and then realizes he's Jewish and asks forgiveness. Baxter maintains her own melodies and makes the best of the non Christmas melodies, throwing in a dance or two.
The show was a good length with a well placed ten minute intermission, encouraged people to carry Christmas with them throughout the year and was full of memorable lines such as the ending: "If you enjoyed yourselves, tell all your friends about us and send them over. If you didn't, send your enemies. We don't care who buys the tickets."
You have several chances to catch this holiday special (set in the seventies) that should become a family tradition. It's like a cup of Christmas expresso to jumpstart your Christmas Cheer. Remaining showtimes are December 27, 28, 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 cash only at the door, and there is a cash bar where drinks are available for suggested donations. You can also add Lillian Baxter on Facebook, so you'll "know when she's making bundt cakes."
cover photo courtesy of Lillian Baxter's facebook page