Photo-John Vessels

A Very Lillian Baxter Christmas

Written and Created by John Vessels and Jay Schwandt

Review by Brian Walker

Entire contents copyright © 2013 by Brian Walker, all rights reserved.

A Very Lillian Baxter Christmas is a delightful and inspiring night of song and Christmas cheer in the style of the old-fashioned, one-woman-with-a-voice-and-a-man-at-a-piano cabarets that this city is sorely lacking. There’s a loose story arc, but mostly to serve setting up the characters and situations. The night belongs to Ms. Baxter’s voice and Mr. Schwandt’s hands as they expertly drop holiday songs, both cherished and obscure, banter back and forth and are generally just fun to watch.

Lillian Baxter was born the only child of Arkansas sharecroppers and after winning the Little Miss Rock Contest in her hometown, she moves to LA to star as an extra in 77 films and her own short-lived variety television series. She now travels the Southeastern United States performing her one woman show.  Her piano player is a no-show for her stop in Louisville and so she hires a last-minute replacement, who is Jewish, to accompany her Christmas spectacular and the fun begins!  The show is high-spirited and campy while remaining invested in an honest and sincere sensibility. Through the entirety of Act One I had perma-grin; I couldn’t stop smiling, it was just witty and charming and each song dynamic and inspired.  As Act Two began I expected the same and was pleasantly surprised when my heartstrings began to be pulled and twisted into holiday reminiscence of Christmases past and honest revelations about why we do it all in the first place. The result was a truly lovely experience shared by everyone in the room and I honestly cherished every moment of it.

John Vessels inhabits the character of Ms. Baxter so effortlessly, so skillfully, that by the second Act I completely forgot I was watching a man in drag. He understands what drag is and about, but never takes it over the line, never pushes too far to remind the audience what he’s doing. And his voice. People. You must hear him sing. I could list eighteen adjectives and still wouldn’t do it justice. He lifted me and inspired me and filled me with the spirit of the holiday. He has a masterful level of control over his instrument and he pairs it with a pitch perfect portrayal of a super star that never got to be.

Jay Schwandt is Ms. Baxter’s last minute Jewish accompanist and he also shined like a Christmas star. His skill on the piano was impressive and his interactions as the confused Jewish boy trying to play Christmas tunes was endearing and adorable. He has a few rock star moments during the evening, most notably his solo during Ms. Baxter’s “nose-powdering” break.

I’m going back and I’m bringing friends because I had just such a delightful time. They’re playing through the month of December with Monday performances for other weekend performer types. Go. It’s a perfect night of off-beat, campy holiday fun that’s backed up with some serious talent and musical chops. Plus Barb is serving up spiced mulled hot wine and it was delicious!

A Very Lillian Baxter Christmas

Dec. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 & 29 2012

7:30 p.m  $15.00 at the door

For reservations:

Vault 1031

1031 Sixth Street

Louisville, KY 40202