Thursday, December 13, 2012

‘Twas The Night Before Hannukah: The Musical Battle Between Christmas and the Festival of Lights

( While I'm sure the Idelsohn Society (who I'm pretty sure are not working on an Off-Broadway musical adaptation of the Protocols of Zion) would prefer this was reviewed a few nights before Hannukah rather than on day 5, it makes a great X-mas present as well, and if you're anything like my Jewish uncles, you'll probably want to buy this after the season when the price is cut. And perhaps this two disc box is more appropriate for Yuletide than Dreidel Days, because if there's any thesis offered here it's that everyone, especially Jews,  knows Christmas is more fun than Hannukah. Not to put down disc one, Hannukah songs sung by both super jews (early 20th Century celebrity cantors, a temple children's choir) and left-leaning non-jews (Ella Jenkins, Woody Guthrie), but it's not exactly a barn burning musical shindig (despite Mickey Katz delivering the funny and the Klezmatics turning up the heat). But disc two, in which Jewish performers perform Christmas songs, is a wild party, with Joey Ramone, Bob Dylan, Herb Alpert, and Benny Goodman bringing the cheer. While the best cut on here (if you put aside Lou Reed's spoken holiday greeting -- the word "happiness" has never sounded so maudlin) is a killer ethnic comedy routine about Jews celebrating Christmas, for the most part the Hebrews play it straight, with Dinah Shore giving it her all while receiving a tree-bound partridge, and Eddie Fisher seeming sincerely nostalgic for the Christmases he pretends to have grown up with. There's nothing on here as "c'mon, man, Jew up!" as that Neil Diamond "Silent Night" where he sings "C-h-r-i-s-t the savior was b-o-r-n-n-n-n" with as much agony and ecstasy as if he was being crucified himself. And obvious stuff like Adam Sandler is also nixed -- this is an exquisitely curated collection, with a beautiful booklet featuring essays by Greil Marcus, historian Jenna Weissman Joselit, and the Society themselves. Plus, there's somethong on here no one could fail to love: Sammy Davis wishing his international audience a musical merry christmas! Mazel tov Santa, you did it again!

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