The Holiday Guys
by Anthony Chase
Broadway stars Jeffry Denman and Mark Kudisch come to MusicalFare
Jeffry Denman, the Buffalo native and Astaire Award nominee who was in the original Broadway cast of Mel Brooks’s The Producers and appeared in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, is coming home for the holidays. What’s more, he’s bringing one of his Broadway buds back with him, specifically, three-time Tony Award nominee Marc Kudisch, star of such Broadway shows as Thoroughly Modern Millie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and 9 to 5. Together they’ll appear at Denman’s old stomping ground, MusicalFare Theatre in Snyder, to perform an evening of holiday comedy-song-and-dance as “The Holiday Guys.”
The show is a celebration of Christmas and Hanukah.
Artvoice caught up with Denman and Kudisch in New York City for a chat about the show—just as soon as we’d snagged our tickets for the two-performance event, Wednesday, December 21, and Thursday, December 22 at 7pm. The caliber of the performers, coupled with the intimacy of the setting, makes this a holiday attraction not to be missed.
It’s Sunday morning. Jeffry and Marc gambol into the crowded Tick Tock Diner on 8th Avenue and 34th Street—just a block and a half away from Macy’s flagship store, where eager Manhattan shoppers are lined up to see the windows and take their kids to see the real Santa Claus.
Jeffry I’ve known since he was a teenager, appearing in the chorus and then in a progression of increasingly important roles at Upstage New York, at UB, and at MusicalFare. He came back to town to portray Fred Astaire in his own show, Dancing in the Dark, first at MusicalFare and then at Studio Arena, and also to appear in a concert version of The Music Man with the Buffalo Philharmonic and Michele Ragusa at Kleinhans. Between those shows, I’ve traveled around the country to see him play leading roles in musicals just about everywhere.
Marc Kudisch I’ve only known from afar—but I’ve seen him a lot, and he’s fantastic. On Broadway, I saw him in High Society, in The Wild Party (the version by Western New York’s Michael John LaChiusa), in Bells Are Ringing, in Assassins, in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and in The Apple Tree. In California, I saw him in Thoroughly Modern Millie and in 9 to 5—and then I saw him again when each of those shows subsequently moved to Broadway. I also saw him in The Minister’s Wife, a musical version of Shaw’s Candida at Lincoln Center, and in Terrence McNally’s Golden Age at the Kennedy Center. (I did not see his performances as replacement for Chauvelin in The Scarlett Pimpernel or as Gaston in Beauty in the Beast on Broadway, but he did those, too.)
Kudisch is an amazing performer. In addition to being startlingly handsome, and in addition to possessing a rich and resonant baritone, he is a consummate clown. In fact, in a career resplendent with far classier credits, his gift for comedy and his outrageous antics as Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opposite Jan Maxwell make that show a favorite Broadway memory for me. Yes, I am in awe of his deftly honed work in The Minister’s Wife and Golden Age, but I still laugh at the memory of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
There is clearly a strong bond of friendship between Denman and Kudisch, but I can’t think of a time when they might have worked together, apart from the Holiday Guys show.
“We were in ‘Broadway By the Year’ together,” explains Denman, referring to a Broadway event in which performers sing show tunes from a chosen year at Broadway’s Town Hall, a large performance venue on 43rd Street. “We were both in the 1924 show,” he recalls. Denman and his wife Erin got to dance to “I’d Rather Charleston” from the Gershwins’ Lady Be Good, originally performed by Fred Astaire and his sister Adele, and Kudisch got to sing “Indian Love Call” with Sarah Jane McMahon and “Somebody Loves Me.”
The two hit it off right away and determined that they’d like to work together again. With encouragement from Kudisch’s wife, they concocted the idea to do a holiday show.
“I’m Jewish, but I love all that holiday music,” says Kudisch. “I have a stack of Christmas CDs in my car and listen to them on my way home.”
At first, Denman and Kudisch approached their producer at Town Hall, and he was very interested in the idea. They started to assemble the show for Town Hall.
“Intimacy is not a question of the venue,” insists Kudisch. “You can create intimacy in a 3,000-seat auditorium. It is a question of the material. So we began to conceive of a show in which I’d play the guitar, and Jeff would play the ukulele, and we sing and talk by the fake fireplace. Who can’t identify with that?”
“Our starting point,” explains Denman, “is the large number of very commercial shows that get cranked out in New York during the holidays. It used to be just Radio City Music Hall, but then it became The Grinch, and Elf, and everything else. We wanted to do something that expressed the real spirit of the holidays and what it all means to us.”
Well, the folks at Town Hall said they liked the idea, but in no time at all Jeff and Marc found themselves being pulled in another direction.
“They started to try to load it with celebrities and turn it into exactly the kind of show we were trying to avoid,” says Kudisch.
Think Bob Hope Christmas special or the manufactured and commercial Christmas and Hanukah equivalent of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“We didn’t want to do that,” says Denman.
“We wanted to do a show about coming together with family and being thankful for the things we have. Laughing together and celebrating,” says Kudisch. “We wanted to do a show that came from the heart, not from the cash box.”
They decided to do it on their own. They sat down in a restaurant and started to write down what they would like to do in the show. They found that they were natural collaborators; 75 percent of that original concept is what they ended up performing and what audiences will see at MusicalFare.
Jeff plays the ukulele; Marc plays the guitar. They sing songs. They tell stories. They joke around.
Kudisch is Jewish, but has distinct Christmas memories from his youth.
“I was one of two Jewish kids in my neighborhood,” he says. “I grew into Christmas traditions that had nothing to do with being Christian, but everything to do with having good friends who were, and the spirit of the holidays, sharing, watching movies together, that kind of thing.”
In 2009, Marc and Jeff did three performances of the show at the Gotham Comedy Club in Manhattan.
“It went great!” they agree.
“A comedy club is not really equipped for a show like ours,” says Kudisch, “but we managed. “They booked us as if we were a comedy team with no sound system beyond two microphones. We do become characters in the show, but we are also ourselves. Still, the manager at the club came to us and said, ‘I’m totally not a holiday kind of person, but you guys have reconnected me with the real spirit of the season.’ We loved that!”
The following year, Jeff and Marc got an invitation to perform as part of the Broadway Holiday Show at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. It’s a high-profile venue on the West Coast, so they agreed. To their delight, their material was the most enthusiastically received part of evening.
“We learned two important lessons from that,” says Kudisch. “To begin, our material was not exclusively a New York City thing. But as importantly, in a very nice evening of Broadway music, we found that people really wanted to hear holiday music at holiday time.”
A conflict in Kudisch’s schedule scuttled any possibility for a New York City booking this year, so Jeff and Marc began to scout around for another venue. That led Jeff back home to MusicalFare. Here, they’ll do their popular show, work in the new material, and connect Buffalonians with the spirit of the holidays.
Do they have long-range plans for this routine? You bet!
“We’re the Holiday Guys!” exclaims Kudisch. “We’ve got shows in the works for Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and a Passover/Easter show that we call ‘Eastover!’”
Until then, tickets to see Jeffry Denman and Marc Kudisch as the Holiday Guys can be reserved by calling 839-8540 or online at www.musicalfare.com.
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