The Bev Leslies at the Cutting Room
Among all the traditional Christmas shows in New York, the Bev Leslies Christmas Fantasia is always the hippest. Monday night's 2016 installment, again at the Cutting Room, was no different, what with Elaine Caswell and Bette Sussman again fronting a band of monster New York players (guitarist John Putnam, bassist Paul Socolow, drummer Shawn Pelton and the Fa La La La Horns of Clark Gayton and Aaron Heick and fabulous special guests Jonny Rosch and Christine "The Beehive Queen" Ohlman.
True, the evening did begin with this holiday season's obligatory election reference, Caswell proclaiming, "Let's join hands and begin our descent into Donny's Inferno." But it was heat of a different, joyous sort that ensued, thanks to the hot jazz/jump blues from Caswell, whose sung with just about everyone and currently sings backup for Cyndi Lauper, and Sussman, a great singer, too, but also a great keyboardist who played in Darlene Love's holiday show band at B.B. King's Saturday night.
Caswell, most notably, wailed out the Christmas classic "The Bells of St. Mary's." Sussman shone on "Mamba, Santa, Mambo." Together with Ohlman, they backed Rosch on "Me and Mrs. Jones," which took a hysterical adult departure from the Billy Paul original.
Of course, it would be hard to top the surprise showing by Lauper, who was dressed for the occasion in wacky eyewear and hairpiece and rocked the room heavy with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" after minutely detailing instructions to the soundman. But Caswell and Sussman are not to be outdone: What's so great about their Bev Leslies shows is that it gives them—and their backup—a chance to emerge from the relative shadows as deserving headliners.
For the encore they invited up all the singers in the audience, packing the stage with the likes of Lauper, Everett Bradley and Mary Lee Kortes for William Bell's "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday." Sussman, by the way, threw in some Hanukkah song bits to go with the fully lit menorah atop her keyboard setup, and in keeping with the tense undercurrents now churning beneath all waters, wondered if the Jewish holiday might be among many things, including freedom of choice, that might soon be taken away.
"That's okay," chirped Caswell, joking, perhaps. "There's still Kwanzaa and Ramadan."