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‘Joys And Angst Of The Holidays’

‘Joys And Angst Of The Holidays’

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

Jews and Christians have very different rituals that mark the onset of winter, but they share the pleasures and stresses of the holiday season. In Laurence Holzman and Felicia Needleman’s revue, “That Time of the Year,” which opens this weekend at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, two dozen new songs illuminate various aspects of the winter festivals. When the show ran four years ago at the York Theatre Company, Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times lauded it as “awe-inspiring” and “full of good cheer.” Zachary Clause, Leslie Henstock, Emily Jenda, Ryan Malyar and Hanley Smith make up the new five-person cast.

As if to counter the oft-heard lament that there are not enough good Chanukah songs, “That Time of the Year,” directed by Annette Jolles, presents a cluster of both serious and comedic tunes in honor of the Festival of Lights. “Angelo Rosenbaum” is about a half-Jewish, half-Catholic man who has trouble finding a romantic partner who shares his love of both traditions, while in “Mama’s Latkes” a woman remembers when she was a little girl making latkes with her mother. And in “Time for a Spin,” a dreidel pleads for a child to play with it.

Most amusing of all is “Wong Ho’s China Garden,” in which a couple gets married on Christmas Eve in a Chinese restaurant, where the motzi is said over the chop suey and a Chinese waiter leads the hora.

Other songs in “That Time of Year,” deal with the emotions surrounding returning home to one’s family, the difficulty in finding just the right gift for a spouse and the struggle to avoid gaining too much weight from all the holiday goodies.

Holzman and Needleman won the prestigious Ed Kleban Award for lyricists in 2006, a competition judged by the late Joseph Stein (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and other prominent theater artists. They are on the leadership team of the WPPAC, where their epic new musical, “Wallenberg,” about the Swiss diplomat who saved Jews from the Nazis, just concluded its run.

For “That Time of the Year,” which was originally written in the mid-1990s and performed at “Don’t Tell Mama” and other cabaret clubs, Holzman and Needleman collaborated with seven different composers: Sanford Marc Cohen, Nicholas Levin, Donald Oliver, Kyle Rosen, Brad Ross, Mark Wherry and Wendy Wilf. The original cast album from the York Theater production was recorded in a two CD set in 2008.

In an interview with the song-writing team, Needleman said that the show expresses the “joys and angst of the holiday season in such a way that no one’s left untouched.” Her partner chimed in that while the show “never compares or likens the holidays to each other, more and more people do celebrate both Chanukah and Christmas within their extended families.” The show thus provides, he said, “a way for people of all faiths to come together” at this magical time of year.

“That Time of the Year” runs through Dec. 19 at the White Plains Performing Arts Center, 11 City Place in downtown White Plains. Performances are Thursday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets, $39, call Ticket Fusion at (877)548-3237.

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