By: Jan Farrington
Texas country songwriter Blake Burrow and sparkly soprano Mary Mattison hit all the right notes—twangy and sweet, rockin’ and gentle, funny and sad—in the Reid Cabaret Theatre’s Nashville Christmas at Casa Mañana. The show has a song list full of surprises, the singers are having fun. And settling in at our tables, sipping an Irish coffee or a “special” holiday drink on offer, we’re feeling fine ourselves.
Some much-loved Christmas tunes are hanging on this musical tree: a velvety “Silent Night” and resonant “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” traded between the two singers; a low and lovely “Mary Did You Know,” a bouncing rockabilly meet-up of “Jingle Bell Rock/Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
But the stars of the night are a string of country Christmas songs you might not have heard in years—or ever. Some are old, some new; and I tell you, my Christmas playlist will never be the same.
Here’s a sampling. Mattison (seen as “Sandy” in Casa’s 2019 Grease) puts a wonderful swing on Kasey Musgraves’ “Ribbons and Bows” and the Gwen Stefani/Blake Shelton rouser “You Make It Feel Like Christmas”—and the two performers get a beat going on the Dan + Shay number “Take Me Home for Christmas.” For laughs, Burrow (Cotton on Concrete) tackles the vintage ‘60s Buck Owens song “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” and the high-larious “Merry Christmas from the Family,” a shaggy-dog tune from Robert Earl Keen. It’s about the “complicated” big family almost all of us have met—and some have tried to love. It’s a Texas classic (sung with twangy humor by Burrow) from a songwriter who looks more like Santa by the year.
Other songs hit the heart just right, recognizing that last Christmas, and maybe this one too, have been a blend of bitter and sweet. Some of us have re-discovered the joys of spending more time at home: Burrow sings Thomas Rhett’s recent “Christmas in the Country,” and Mattison is marvelous with that old chestnut “The Christmas Song,” still a quiet joy. And there are reminders we’ve survived bad times before: Burrow shows us the grit and determination of working folks with his quiet and heartfelt rendition of the Merle Haggard song “If We Make It Through December.”
Through the evening, the singers enjoyed terrific backing from veteran music director/pianist Eugene Gwozdz (on keyboards and “effects”) and a fine pair of sidekicks, Ben Brown on bass, and Mike Drake on drums. More than once, Burrow and Mattison turned around to grin at the trio, clearly enjoying the good vibes onstage.
If you’ve been looking for something fresh and fun, this just might be it. Nashville Christmas runs through December 18, tickets at: casamanana.org
Read more: https://www.onstagentx.com/reviews/nashville-christmas-the-reid-cabaret-theater-at-casa-manana?fbclid=IwAR0vHpPQObc_6LuGw_f0yw5rFfQvosYpfXmSyhfufUOj8SOAeRa6bJDL0cM.