First Lady Michelle Obama, who is on an anti-obesity kick, is not likely to be pleased by the new song "Soul Food Parade."
Written by Thomasina Petrus and Sanford Moore, it's a make-you-hungry celebration of food at the holidays. We're talking candied yams and collard greens, seasoned meats and dressing -- holiday cuisine that could knock anyone off their diet.
This original number is lovingly delivered by Petrus and Julius Collins in "Hot Chocolate," a soulful new holiday revue conceived by Petrus with director Austene Van. The double-edged song is a standout in the show that premiered over the weekend at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul.
"Hot Chocolate" injects new spirit into the season, even as it addresses the stress that people feel around this time of year.
Petrus and Collins, who have beautiful voices and good chemistry, play two people who have been dating for a couple of years. Taylor (Petrus) is hoping for an engagement ring. Michael (Collins) seems clueless. The pair have gone shopping for their respective families and, as they come out of the store, realize they've left the keys in the car. Stuck without transportation, they drop their shopping bags at a bus stop while a nearby band churns out holiday tunes. (Moore plays electric piano with supple bassist Jay Young and spirit-loosing drummer Demetrius Mabry.)
They begin to argue, working through the tension by singing new arrangements of holiday and non-holiday tunes alike, including "Merry Christmas Baby," "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and "Little Drummer Boy."
Moore is an ingenious arranger who finds links between seemingly dissimilar songs that propel the story. In one instance, he yokes Dan Fogelberg's "Longer Than" to Stevie Wonder's "You and I."
While Dean Holzman's scenic design is vivid and funny, costume designer Jason Lee Resler and sound designer C. Andrew Mayer have room for improvement. Collins' workaday outfit makes him seem more fit for a factory job than a shopping spree. He also had to struggle with a microphone that sometimes faded in and out.
Still, it surprised me that I enjoyed "Hot Chocolate" as much as I did. I went to the show with an unconscious expectation that it be big -- a big sound, musically, and full of mirth. That bias comes from absorbing Penumbra Theatre's "Black Nativity," which is on hiatus this year, "A Christmas Carol," which is knocking them back with laughs at the Guthrie, and countless other holiday productions.
A chamber piece with a pair of big personalities, "Hot Chocolate" is a sweet little addition to the holidays.