Even the Grinch could love ‘Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show’

The American Idol winners Spread Holiday Cheer thru Dec 30th

Who said it was time to un-Deck The Halls? Christmas may be over, but Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show (the abridged version of the comically-long title, Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show) Is still going strong.

With a multitude of awards and accomplishments between them (you can read the Playbill, I am saving my words), Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are best remembered as the runner-up and winner, respectively, of the second season of American Idol. This was in the era before on-demand and streaming distracted from must-watch TV, and Idol was a cultural phenomenon. The season two finale broke viewership records, catapulting Aiken and Studdard to superstardom.

Their Christmas show marries the best of classic holiday variety shows with the amazing talents for which the now-40-year-olds are remembered. The show is a two hour roller coaster of emotion. Aided by a cast of five singers/actors, as well as a set to rival that of any Andy Williams Christmas TV special, the pair make their mark by embracing the best of what makes Broadway, Broadway. Campy costumes, wonderful orchestrations, and all-out spectacle.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending who you ask — the bar for Broadway Christmas special engagements is upsettingly low. For example, last year’s Home For The Holidays was another show featuring winners of reality talent competition shows. I had press seats to it. It was so lackluster that I opted not to write about it, lest I offend the publicist gracious enough to grant me a pair of tickets.

Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show is a marked improvement. For one, it actually injects the audience with good ol’ holiday merriment. Aiken and Studdard’s voices are as keen as they were 15 years ago, and their fanbase is as loyal as ever.

My personal judgement is that the overall production suffered from pacing issues due to an overemphasis on the comedy and banter, the variety made for an enjoyably classic evening of true entertainment. But, even its most uneven moments, the Broadway-fying of these Idol champs has not damped their ability to belt it and captivate a room.

The pair shine best when they duet, playing off each others’ strong voices and sending the crowd into ovation after ovation. This is Broadway, and so all five co-stars feature with their vocals as well, allowing Aiken to change from one shiny suit to another, or allowing Studdard to put on a gospel robe and prepare to hold a revival.

There’s not much to say about the setlist for this show, lest I spoil one final Christmas present that you should definitely unwrap for yourself. I will say that there are throwbacks to secular carols, religious music, and even some tributes to Laugh-In-style comedy sprinkled throughout. Next year, if the producers learn from the strengths of their leads and adjust the pacing accordingly, they may have an even bigger winner on their hands.

If you are (like me) still in the Christmas spirit and want one last Holiday Hoorah before that big Times Square Ball drops, you need to go see Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show. Four more performances only through December 30th at the Imperial Theatre. A portion of the ticket proceeds benefit the National Inclusion Project.

Author: Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.