The Spice of Life: Aimee Mann's Christmas (Variety) Show

Aimee Mann's Christmas Show Monday, Dec. 10, 2007 The Guthrie Theater Better Than: Any other holiday show not involving a drunken Hannukah Fairy rapping while dressed in a blue tutu

From the opening strains of "The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies," it was clear that the evening would have a distinctly holiday feel. Aimee Mann and her merry band of troubadors did not complete the Nutracker tune, though they did run through several holiday standards, and the whole room from stage to back walls was just suffused with festive.

Footage from last year's first annual Christmas tour, which did not hit Minneapolis

Mann's second Christmas tour came to the Guthrie last night. A concert it was, yes, but more than a nod was given to the old-time variety show. The live comedy stylings of Paul F. Tompkins were on display, as were recurring videotaped skit segments involving big-name Hollywood types like Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Bob Odenkirk and others. Musical guests (Nellie McKay, Adam Levy of The Honeydogs) were woven in and out of the set until all the congregants joined together onstage at performance's end.

The common element was Mann, the ringmaster who kept the circus together, and her singing lent a real poignancy to songs we've all heard more times than we can count. Mann's resonant alto brought the plaintive elements of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" to the forefront. A hint of melancholy circled around the edges of "The Christmas Song" as well.

Other numbers were played equally for laughs, such as the lounge-tinged duet with Tompkins on "Baby It's Cold Outside" ("Babies will be conceived in Minneapolis tonight!" he quipped during the song's intro). And who doesn't love a live version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch?" Mann proved well able to poke fun at herself throughout the evening, too. At one point, Ben Stiller advises her to be sure she plays "that one song of yours ... you know, the one about being really depressed."

There wasn't much place for anything but lightheartedness this night, though. "Usually, I'm a hater, and fairly bitter," Mann joked, "but I actually do really love Christmas ... I've been on a Christmas journey of my own." And she's taken us with her.

Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: If you're going to have a video screen behind you during a holiday show that involves comedy, that screen had better play "Santa Claus Conquers The Martians" at some point during the evening. It did, during Nellie McKay's three-song interlude.

Random Detail: The faux snowflakes dropping from the ceiling during encore constituted the exact GPS coordinates where kitsch meets sincerity.

By the way: A (video) cameo from Weird Al Yankovic put the cherry of surreal on top of the night's comedic sundae.

Sample MP3 files: "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (:30) "Baby It's Cold Outside" (:30) "She's the Motherfuckin' Hannukah Fairy" (:30)

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