Joy: A Holiday Cabaret at the Lab Theater

Showstopper: Sharon Bradley-Couet
Thomas Sandelands

It will be hard to find a more aptly named show this year than Interact's Joy. The "holiday cabaret" provides the emotion in great waves, as dozens of performers take the stage to showcase their hopes, wishes, memories, and talents at the Lab Theater. It's an infectious mix that promises to send the audience out happy that 'tis the season, even on a night when the roads were made by slippery by winter's first coating of snow.

The piece is loosely tied together by emcee Kevin Kling, who looks back at his youth to an era when only a handful of television stations were in the area, including one that, without a network affiliation, played mainly syndicated TV shows and classic movies. Once a week, it would cart out an original program, which is where our cabaret takes over.

Interact focuses on creating and producing work by people with disabilities, with the company merging its efforts with several staff and guest artists to produce each show. Along with Kling, who has a long affiliation with the company, hosting duties were shared by Eriq Nelson, playing the slick, somewhat inappropriate host of the televised Joy program, while the 40 or so members of the company took the stage as the special guests for this week.

So while Kling goes on his journey to determine what makes "joy" such a special emotion, the Interact company shows it to us, with dozens of briskly paced songs and routines. There are comedy routines, a dramatic recitation of Shakespeare (courtesy of Bard lover Jeffrey Haas), a bit of flamenco (Colette Illarde and Laura Mullin), and plenty of songs.

Many of those are originals created over the years by the Interact artists. Julie Lawrence shares a tale of memory loss in Alan Ernst's "I-Can't-Remember Blues," while Michelle Lockhart explores the ups and downs of life following a stroke in "Pretty Good," sharing the spotlight with guest musician Ryan Lee.

Sharon Bradley-Couet threatens to steal the show with her solo spotlight, "Rise of the Rest." Showcasing a powerful set of pipes and a natural ability to capture the stage, Bradley-Couet makes the song her own from the first moments. Something similar happens with Doree Bogrow as she sings "Invisible." Here the vulnerability in her voice deepens the impact of the piece.

There are plenty of moments when the entire ensemble is involved, singing backup and madly and—yes—joyfully dancing across the stage. The final two numbers put a terrific cap on this. In "I Climbed a Mountain," Kat Corey and Michael Wolfe begin the action but are soon joined by the entire company for several choruses of Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher." They end with "Warm Hands," a song as comforting as its title, and take a moment to pay tribute to Paul Thielke, a company member killed earlier this month in an accident.

The guest artists get their moments in the spotlight as well, such as Kling's description of a particularly religious "Christmas pizza," or Nelson's extremely inappropriate holiday-song medley, where he comes off like a first-week-of-auditions American Idol reject. In other words, it's absolutely brilliant.

Director Tod Petersen, who also had a hand in writing several of the original songs, has a lot on his plate here. With more than 40 performers sharing the stage, there's plenty of traffic to deal with, but all the comings and goings never become distracting. More important, the show's pace never flags, and the sheer energy of so many bright performers never overwhelms the proceedings either. (Petersen the performer will be featured at the end of the run, when Kling goes off to do his own holiday show at the Fitzgerald Theater.)

Some of the most affecting moments come in testimonials projected along the brick back wall of the theater, as the company members talk about the things that bring them joy in their own lives, even if it is something as simple as the air we breathe. It's a fine reminder of the tiny details that can make us happy even in the most harried, confusing moments of life.

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