The Dean of Christmas
By: Joel Leggett
Fort Worth — There is something timeless about Dean Martin. Casa Mañana is betting that theatergoers will want some nostalgia to go with their holiday entertainment. A Dean Martin Christmas delivers nostalgia and so much more. Get a ticket while you can; it will sell out. I hope that Casa can add a night or two.
The star of the show is Joe Scalissi, a world-class performer who has been doing Dean Martin for decades. His talent and knowledge of the songs and life of Dean Martin is remarkable. This is no academic lecture where Scalissi tells you about Martin’s life. It’s a night of great music led by Scalissi with just a keyboard player/musical director, stand-up bass player and drummer.
It was opening night and they mentioned that they had one day of rehearsal on Monday. Scalissi was a true pro and his performance is worth the price of admission alone. His jokes with the audience, and the way he masterfully works a crowd only comes from years of experience. The show is packed with many of the Christmas standards you’d expect. So, you will hear lovely renditions of “Let it Snow,” “Marshmallow World,” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Yet it wouldn’t be a true Dean Martin show without some of his hits like “Volare” and “Ain’t that a Kick in the Head.”
Scalissi looks natural with the two items you expect to see in Dean Martins hands when he is performing: a glass of J&B and a cigarette. He drinks throughout the show while jokes about booze and women are a running gag. This show is a great reminder of what a showman Dean Martin was and how different show business was. I was seated at a table of three generations of women from Fort Worth and they all loved the whole evening. The atmosphere of the Reid Cabaret Theatre suited itself to such an intimate show. Yet Scalissi was right when he said he preferred a bigger stage. He has the chops and Dean Martin played far larger rooms. Somehow none of that mattered and the audience and performers had a blast.
A surprise toward the end of the first act was Martin’s being joined by Judy Garland. Local favorite Janelle Lutz performed her signature Judy with style and panache. Her radiant voice filled the room and she quickly established a rapport with the crowd as she did last year with B. J. Cleveland in the Reid show An Evening with Liza and Judy. Martin and Garland take on a famous Christmas duet that has a bit of a bad rap lately. Their rendering is fun and a great surprise. Seeing two pros become such legendary performers made me wish they had more numbers together. Lutz singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was sublime.
The second act is an interesting mix of Christmas favorites and hits with chestnuts from Martin’s career. “That’s Amore” is prefaced by how much Dean Martin hated the song. But you can see why it was a hit; it’s catchy and infectious. It was his rendition of “Christmas Blues” that shone brightest. It’s not as famous or frequently performed as “Blue Christmas” but it showed the complications and sadness the holidays can bring.
Casa has a hit on its hands. Frankly, I wish they could expand it to a bigger venue or run more nights. If you want a nostalgic Christmas treat for the family or a date night and you just can’t see another Nutcracker, Christmas Carol, or a Christmas choir, get your tickets now! A Dean Martin Christmas goes down like a nice whiskey on a cold day.
See the review here.