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Rockabilly Christmas Lights Up Swing 46

Rockabilly Christmas Lights Up Swing 46

Ah, Christmas in New York. Roasting chestnuts, the Rockettes, and of course… Rockabilly? Well, this year, one of my favorite night spots, Swing 46, which is generally known for its outstanding big band performers and swing dancing, is expanding its musical horizons for the holidays. They are hosting The Original Rockabilly Christmas featuring Shea Arender, in cooperation with The Girl Behind the Curtain Productions and Mr. Arender himself.  

Sarah Hayes

Rockabilly combined western musical styles such as country with rhythm and blues in a musical collision that exploded in the 1950’s into classic rock and roll, as represented by such artists as Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, among others. A lot of that cross-fertilization happened in the recording studios of Sun Records in Memphis. If you’ve seen the musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” in which all four of the above are brought together for an imagined performance together there, you get the picture.   

Shea Arender

This holiday show, created by Mr. Arender, is both a musical tribute and a Christmas present in honor of those performers and that style. He is a performer, producer, songwriter, and entrepreneur, who comes from Louisiana via Las Vegas, where he is the Executive Director of the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra.  He is also the Executive Producer of Harold Arlen’s Broadway Estate Musical, The Wonderful Wizard of Song, and a collector of vintage items from the Rockabilly era, including the original 1957 Pink Cadillac previously owned by Elvis himself.  

Rob Cookman

Mr. Arender is a dark haired, handsome  “lady killer” with a warm baritone and a natural Southern accent that can’t help but invite comparison to that of “The King”, especially when he is decked out in a sparkly, 50’s style tuxedo coat. Although only three of the songs in his set were Elvis tunes specifically, every time he sang, the girls in the audience swooned accordingly. Songs like “that’s Alright Mama” and “Blue Suede Shoes” are interwoven with traditional Christmas favorites, Rockabilly style.  

Shea Arender

He shares the stage with two talented  female backup singers, Sarah Hayes and Jade Litaker, who occasionally step into the spotlight on their own and shine brightly. 

Jade Litaker

Ms. Hayes swings between lively on “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Raindeer,” and sultry, melting the icicles of the gentlemen in the crowd with “Santa Baby.”  With a clean, lovely sound evoking Ella Fitzgerald, the sweet-voiced Ms. Litaker gives us “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and the lesser known, “Santa, Is That You?”   

Sarah Hayes

If I were to pick any nits here, I’d like to see more interaction between the female singers and Mr. Arender.  As his back up singers, they often looked like they needed something more to do. A bit of rehearsed choreography would also give the show some much-needed physical unity.               

Shea Arender

Musical Director and pianist, Rob Cookman, captures the Jerry Lee Lewis style very well, although he doesn’t attempt to bring any of “The Killer’s” physical antics to the piano. The rest of the capable band included Andrew Whitbeck on bass, Jack Morer on rockin’ guitar, Dan Weiner poundin’ the drums, Kerry Mackillop tootin’ the trumpet, Ben Golder-Novick yakkety-yakkin’ the  sax, and David Gibson blowin’ the trombone.  

Shea Arender

The intimacy of Swing 46 lends itself well to a show like this, which is as much  a musical party as a performance.  Singing along is frequently encouraged, and the performers occasionally either go into the audience, or bring someone up to sing with. Getting up and dancing is also encouraged during the show, as if anybody’s feet could really resist!   

Shea Arender

So put on your Blue Suede Shoes and get down to Swing 46 at 349 West 46th Street on a Friday or Saturday nights and Sunday Brunch from now through the holidays at least.

Events

Jeffery Lyle Segal is a multifaceted theater artist who has worn many professional hats. He started as a musical theater performer in his teens. He attended Stanford U., Northwestern University, and SUNY at Binghamton to study acting, directing and dramatic literature. He also wrote theater reviews for The Stanford Daily and was Arts Editor of WNUR Radio at Northwestern. After college, he is proud to have been the first full time Executive Director of Chicago’s acclaimed Steppenwolf Theater Company. He left them to work as a theater actor and director. His special effects makeup skills got him into the movies, working on the seminal cult horror film, Re-Animator.He also did casting for several important Chicago projects, sometimes wearing both production hats, as he did on Chicago’s most famous independent movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Academy for New Musical Theater, where he developed two book musicals as a composer, lyricist and librettist, Down to Earth Girl (formerly I Come for Love, NYMF 2008), and Scandalous Behavior! (York Developmental Reading Series 2010). He wrote, produced and performed his song “Forever Mine” as the end title theme of the horror film, Trapped! He also has written songs for his performances in cabaret over the years, and the time he spent pursuing country music in Nashville. Most recently he created a musical revue, Mating the Musical, for the Chicago Musical Theater Festival 2016. In NYC, he has attended the BMI musical theater writers’ workshop, and the Commercial Theater Institute 14 week producer program. He is currently creating a company to develop new musicals online. He still keeps up his makeup chops, working with top doctors in NYC and Chicago as one of the country’s most highly regarded permanent cosmetic artists (www.bestpermanentmakeup.com) and as a member of Chicago local IATSE 476. www.jefferylylesegal.com

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