A New Standards holiday show without witty banter is like a Prince concert without his playing guitar.
John Munson and Chan Poling – the mouthpieces/singers of the New Standards – planned to perform without talking at their sixth annual holiday show Friday at the Fitzgerald Theater.
This year’s is a high concept show – with the New Standards trio taking on the roles of the three wise men dressed in nifty Western suits (think the Riders in the Sky with Minnesota-themed appliqués) as the Christmas story is played out in giant photos behind them.
It is a bit clever and a bit corny. But it needs more talk and more seasonal tunes and less country and fewer guests.
The first set features a parade of local luminaries – Aby Wolf, Lucy Michelle, Jeremy Messersmith (underused), Matt Wilson (Roy Orbison’s “Cryin’”), Chris Koza and Chastity Brown (a spirited gospelly turn) – plus New Yorker Mike Doughty, in a delightfully deconstructed “Ring of Fire” complete with dancing cowboys. And, of course, Rupert the Dancer prances around, too, whenever he pleases (prompting Munson to finally speak and ask: “Does that mean we’re winning or flagging?”).
In the second set, New Standards are their usual lovably oddball, goofy, witty, eclectic selves. They ditch the country conceit – save for Joe Savage’s heavenly “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” instrumental on pedal steel guitar (how ‘bout giving New Standards vibes dude Steve Roehm a similar solo spot?) and the Cactus Blossoms’ old-timey “Christmas Time Is Coming.” Arne Fogel adds some classy crooning, Joseph Scrimshaw tells a funny, twisted tale about Santa for adults and Poling and Janey Winterbauer lovingly reinvent the Pogues’ Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York,” he as Tom Waits and she as an Irish lass.
Yes, there are plenty of laughs, patter and Yule tunes in the second set—including the Minnesota classics “Snow Days” by Trip Shakespeare (Munson’s old band) and “Christmas Time Next Year” (a recent Poling tune, dedicated this time to Munson’s late brother-in-law). Poling’s other holiday original, the brand-new “Christmas Train” sung by Choo Choo Bob, will probably be more effective during Sunday’s kids matinee.
New Standards perform at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Fitzgerald.