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Review: ‘Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show’ at the Imperial Theatre

Review: ‘Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show’ at the Imperial Theatre

 Deb Miller
Well known to tens of millions of television viewers as the top two contenders on American Idol’s blockbuster second season in 2003, BFFs Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken are celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of their historic singing competition with a new holiday show for all ages. Playing a limited three-week engagement at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre, Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show – aka Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show – features a fast-paced selection of seasonal songs, silly skits, and incidents of their ongoing tongue-in-cheek rivalry (that leave little time for the full long-winded title!), along with a serious message about finding the true meaning of the yuletide spirit in hope, love, friendship, and giving.
Clay Aiken, La’Nette Wallace, Farah Alvin, Khaila Wilcoxon, and Ruben Studdard. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Clay Aiken, La’Nette Wallace, Farah Alvin, Khaila Wilcoxon, and Ruben Studdard. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Written by Ken Arpino and Jesse Joyce, and directed by Jonathan Tessero, the production is presented in the format of an old-fashioned 1960s TV variety show, with vintage-style humor and pop-culture references, including an introduction aptly inspired by Star Wars(setting the stage for the recurrent joke of the sparring singers’ ongoing contest to determine whose name should be listed first), a variety of ugly holiday sweaters ‘made’ and worn by the ensemble (the terrific Farah Alvin, Ken Arpino, Julian Diaz-Granados, La’Nette Wallace, and Khaila Wilcoxon, who join the stars in both the light-hearted festivities and the familiar songs), and a recreation of the famous Joke Wall from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, with the members of the cast popping their heads out to deliver the sometimes risqué gags (e.g., “What’s the difference between a snowman and a snowwoman?”).

But don’t worry, parents; when the humor and language begin to veer in the direction of mild vulgarity (“What the f . . . alala?”) or, worse yet, to current politics, they have to put a dollar in the Christmas curse stocking (which figures prominently as another running gag throughout the show). Though not all of the intended humor hits the mark (like the tired jokes about the rats on the streets of New York and Aiken’s selfie with the audience that catches a philandering man), there’s a lot of corny laughs and goofy fun designed to bring a sense of old-time cheer to the holiday season, and an occasional new twist to the old standards (the show’s politically-correct take on the now-controversial #MeToo lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is hilarious, as is Studdard’s impersonation of a revivalist preacher).

While the segments of sketch comedy and good-natured ribbing highlight the long-time camaraderie between the two stars, the selection of classic Christmas carols, popular holiday songs, medleys of traditional favorites, and original numbers showcase Studdard’s smooth and soulful jazz-, blues-, and gospel-infused stylings and Aiken’s powerhouse vocals, effortlessly hitting and holding the big notes. From their opening black tie sing-off, alternating between “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” in increasingly over-the-top sequined costumes, to their harmonious closing duet on “O Holy Night,” they consistently affirm their popular status as “American idols” to the innumerable fans of their award-winning talent.

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
The duo and ensemble are given fine support by a live five-piece band (with music direction by Ben Cohn), amusing musical staging (by Lisa Shriver), a colorful design (set by Rob Bissinger, lighting by Paul Miller, costumes by James Brown III, and projections by Jason Lee Courson) that evoke the TV style of the Pop Sixties, and by audience participation in helping to create a wacky new version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

A big part of the holiday joy that the show engenders consists of videos of the men’s reminiscences and reflections on the significance of Christmas, and segments spotlighting the National Inclusion Project, co-founded by Aiken to advocate for children with disabilities to have increased opportunities and access to all recreational and social activities. So along with being entertained by Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show, a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to benefit this important organization. That makes Ruben and Clay real American idols and true shining stars.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including an intermission.

Photo by Mark Hill.
Photo by Mark Hill.

Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show plays through Sunday, December 30, 2018, performing at the Imperial Theatre – 249 West 45th Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.

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Review: ‘Ruben & Clay’ Reunites ‘Idol’ Rivals for Christmas Fun


Review: ‘Ruben & Clay’ Reunites ‘Idol’ Rivals for Christmas Fun

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken in “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.”CreditCarol Rosegg
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken in “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.”CreditCreditCarol Rosegg
Ruben & Clay�s Christmas Show
Broadway, Holiday, Musical, Revue
2 hrs.
Closing Date: 
Imperial Theater, 252 W. 45th St.

But the production now playing at the Imperial Theater on Broadway actually has assets that would be effective any time of the year, especially if you happen to miss old-fashioned variety shows run by a pair of genial, bantering hosts.

In this case they are the singers Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, the winner and runner-up of the second season of “American Idol,” back in 2003. That competition seems to have fostered rather than hampered an enduring friendship, to the point that they should consider performing under a joint name: Cluben? Rublay?

This new show is billed as the first time Mr. Aiken and Mr. Studdard have been reunited “on a national stage” since the end of “Idol,” which may come as a surprise to the people who caught their co-headlining tour in 2010, when the pair repeatedly sang together. You say semantics, I say Christmas miracle again.

Also qualifying under that umbrella is a medley of carols that avoids turning saccharine. Mr. Studdard and Mr. Aiken (who gets first billing is a running gag) try to upstage each other as they trade verses of “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” in a showbiz arms race that’s cheeseball, and very funny. The show, directed by Jonathan Tessero, is barely a few minutes old and it’s already ahead of last year’s “Home for the Holidays,” the dreary revue that hit Broadway with whatever the opposite of gale force is.

That first scene also helps set up the men’s stage personalities. Mr. Aiken has an impish mien and, we’ll later discover in an audience-participation segment, a quick wit. Mr. Studdard is laid back to the point of impassivity, and his no-presence presence makes his singing all the more stunning: He has the precision and warmth of a top-shelf R&B crooner while looking as if his mind was elsewhere entirely. On Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” Mr. Studdard surfs over the notes like a sleigh effortlessly gliding over fresh snow. He is that good.

Mr. Aiken is a less impressive singer but a better actor (he did a stint in “Spamalot” on Broadway after all) and at his best he brings to mind a calmer version of Martin Short.

The two stars get solid support from the game cast of five. Farah Alvin, for instance, duets on a revised version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in which Mr. Studdard keeps trying to push his date out the door (“Can I call you a cab?”). Everybody holds their own in a frantically paced medley of “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman” and other unavoidable nuggets.

This, mind you, is all in the zippy first act, and how much better the production would have been had it ended there. Unfortunately, it backloads all the sentimental stuff after intermission, and has a tougher time dealing with the reflective, spiritual side of the holidays than it did with the light, fun one (even if Mr. Studdard’s tribute to his late brother is quietly affecting). When even a group rendition of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” sounds a little wan, you know it’s time to move on to the new year.

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Written by Ken Arpino & Jesse Joyce
Directed by Jonathan Tessero
Through December 30, 2018
Imperial Theatre
249 West 45th Street

(212-239-6200), http://www.rubenandclay.com/


By Scott Harrah

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken reunite on Broadway this holiday season to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their finale on “American Idol” back in 2003.

For those that remember and care to reminisce about Mr. Studdard and Mr. Aiken’s pop heyday for the holidays, this “first annual” Christmas Show might be something worth taking the entire family to, but anyone else expecting a razzle-dazzle Broadway seasonal extravaganza will be disappointed.

Mr. Studdard and Mr. Aiken have aged well since their halcyon days, and they are both still in fine voice. Mr. Studdard, one may recall, was the winner of “Idol” in 2003 and was christened “America’s Velvet Teddy Bear” by R&B legend Gladys Knight. He went on to have a platinum-selling album, Soulful, the same year, and has since been seen on reality shows like “The Biggest Loser” and done a national tour of Ruben Sings Luther, a musical tribute to Luther Vandross. Mr. Aiken also found success after “Idol,” with mega sales of his albums Measure of a Man and his 2004 release Merry Christmas with Love. Mr. Aiken is also no stranger to Broadway because he took over David Hyde Pierce’s role in Monty Python’s Spamalot more than a decade ago. So, why are these two pop stars on Broadway for the 2018 holidays for three weeks? ‘Tis simply the season for this type of expensive family fare, perhaps?

Last year, Broadway gave us Home for the Holidays, a Christmas concert featuring lesser-known contestants from “Idol” and “America’s Got Talent” (which was also directed by Jonathan Tessero). Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show is certainly a step above the Christmas concerts and overpriced magic shows we get this time of year. In fact, the first act is consistently clever and amusing. While singing Christmas standards like “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” the two spoof Broadway shows, with Mr. Studdard dressed as the lead from Phantom of the Opera, while the camp-as-Christmas (pun intended) Mr. Aiken sings as he rises above the stage like Elphaba in Wicked. It’s as funny as anything one may have seen in the cabaret satire series Forbidden Broadway. They are also not afraid to address controversy: Mr. Studdard does a nice, cleaned-up “PC” version of the much-maligned 1950 pre-feminist-era holiday song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with one of the female vocalists.

The duo has a great group of supporting singers (Farrah Alvin, Ken Arpino, Julian Diaz-Granados, La’Nette Wallace, Khaila Wilcoxon), but unfortunately most of the actual fun is all packed into Act One. At the end of the first act, Mr. Studdard, Mr. Aiken and company all try to cram in a medley of holiday classics into just a few minutes. That’s truly a shame because Act Two is mostly filler, complete with a silly word game about the 12 days of Christmas with an audience member, and Mr. Studdard and Mr. Aiken singing downbeat Christmas songs while reflecting on Yuletide memories. Mr. Studdard’s tales of past Christmases with his late brother are often touching, while Mr. Aiken recounts some pointless stories about how his mother used to surprise him at Christmas by pretending he wouldn’t get everything he wanted.

Both men still have fantastic voices, and Mr. Aiken’s is particularly soaring and suitable for live theater, so it’s puzzling why he chose, as a solo, a rather dull Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (a song about the Christ child that’s in all the hymn books but is not that popular at many churches).

Throughout most of the second act, the kids in the audience were restless and bored. Other than some lame jokes (“all Clay wants for Christmas is Mario Lopez”), there is little memorable material. Director Jonathan Tessero should have simply made the show 90 minutes long, with no intermission.

The official title notes the show is not only the “First Annual” Ruben and Clay Christmas but also a “Carol, Family Fun, Pageant, Spectacular Reunion.” The duo may or may not have enough fans and sell enough tickets to make this an annual holiday event, but they would be wise to add a bit more glitz to make everything more “spectacular” and trim the padding if they return next year.


Reviewed at December 9, 2018 press performance











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American Idol's Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Bring Holiday Cheers to Broadway

American Idol's Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken Bring Holiday Cheers to Broadway

From the makers of last year's Home for the Holidays comes…

Ruben Studdard and Clay AIken on stage at the Imperial Theatre.
Ruben Studdard and Clay AIken onstage at the Imperial Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

Ruben Studdard, winner of American Idol season 2, is going to save Frank Loesser's embattled, Oscar-winning seasonal song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from the ash heap.

Studdard is currently making his Broadway debut opposite longtime television "adversary" Clay Aiken in a new Christmas concert at the Imperial Theatre. The long-winded title is Ruben and Clay's First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show, and it's created by the makers of last season's Home for the Holidays, a concert that often felt more like a war on Christmas than a celebration of it. The glad-tidings on display in this marginally better production more enjoyable than not, and surprisingly moving, too — especially when Studdard and ensemble member Farah Alvin debut a new, humorous take on "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

The set-up is as follows: Studdard and Aiken, winner and runner-up (they never let us forget that), have buried the hatchet and come together to host a Christmas season variety special akin to the ones they watched growing up. What it amounts to is an evening of skits and scenes, with as many secular and spiritual Christmas songs as we could want, performed by two artists who won the hearts of 40 million people 15 years ago.

Thankfully, time has not withered their voices, and their personal performance styles complement each other onstage. Studdard is less of an actor and not really a showman — he's a no-bells-or-whistles, stand-and-deliver kind of performer with a velvet baritone — while Aiken's flair for the theatrical is enough to make up for a lower register that needs a little strengthening. They do well by upbeat duets like "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," and have a pretty funny "can you top this"-style mashup of "Silent Night," "Hark the Herald," and "O Come All Ye Faithful" to open the show.

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken(© Carol Rosegg)

Aiken excels on carols like "The First Noel," while Studdard unleashes a beautifully emotional rendering of "My Grownup Christmas List," dedicated to the memory of his older brother, who passed away in May. A five-member ensemble provides strong backup, and each person has a chance to wail.

In the year since he created Home for the Holidays, director and producer Jonathan Tessero hasn't learned anything about dramatic structure, and there is an astounding amount of padding within this show's inexplicable two-plus hour duration. (Why, oh why, is there an intermission?) Similarly, the transitions are sloppy, the design is cartoonish, and the script, penned by ensemble member Ken Arpino and Jesse Joyce, is painfully unfunny. "Everything should be cheesy at Christmastime," Ruben says, almost as an apology, while giving a knowing glance to the audience. It seems like he even knows what does and doesn't work.

And then there's "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a 1950 song now being banned from radio stations because of objections to the un-PC tone of its lyrics. Studdard, alongside charismatic singer Farah Alvin, sets out to sing his version, which "makes a woman feel respected." Off they go:

Farah: My mother will start to worry

Ruben: She should

Farah: My father will be pacing the floor

Ruben: Text him now

Farah: So really I'd better scurry

Ruben: Yes, be more in a hurry

Farah: But maybe just a half a drink more

Ruben: How about a chamomile tea?

The entire company, not to mention the audience, is clearly smitten by these genuinely comical lyrics. Why isn't the entire show like that?

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Ruben & Clay


by Adam Cohen

Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken were contestants on the second season “American Idol” – a television singing competition fifteen years ago.  Both are singular talents who have combined to bring  Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show to the Imperial Theater for a three week holiday run.

The Pageant is cute, playing to their respective strengths and personalities, while also illustrating their playful competition.  The opening number features them out vocalizing while also dueling with visual stunts – Ruben as Phantom, Clay being suspended mid-curtain.  Clay comes off more showy (lots of costume changes – loud sweaters and gold lame suit).  Ruben mildly embarrassed with toilet humor (literally) and just wanting to sing.

And sing they do. Gloriously.  The show features pretty much every Christmas tune you can think of rendered in an array of duets, solos and group numbers from the ensemble including Farah Alvin, Ken Arpino, Julian Diaz-Granados, La’Nette Wallace and Khaila Wilcoxon.




The pageant has the feel of 1970s television variety shows as rendered by Sonny and Cher or the Brady Bunch kids.  It’s laden with cheesy jokes and good ones too – like the cast popping their heads out of a wrapping paper scrim for one-liners a la “Laugh In.”

The comedy definitely feels burdensome – especially as the evening is a two act when 90 minutes would suffice.  In the second half, an unfortunate audience member is brought onstage for a game of “Holiday Mad-Libs” that results in an excruciating parody of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Better are the touching moments on Clay’s work with the National Inclusion Project and Ruben’s account of his late brother.  Why this is done on video when they are on stage is a questionable choice.

Highlights include the show’s politically-correct take on the now-controversial #MeToo lyrics to “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is hilarious. Their harmonious closing duet on “O Holy Night,” affirms their popular status and winning vocal talents.  Aiken and Studdard have lovely voices.  The price of admission is worth it just for the singing.  The comedy is corny and goofy but it’s an amiable evening.

Photos: Carol Rosegg

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Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard have fixed ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard have fixed ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

December 13, 2018 | 5:12pm | Updated




From 2014 to 2017, Mariah Carey owned the Christmas concert circuit in New York with her annual holiday residency at the Beacon Theatre. But with the diva taking her yuletide act to Europe this season, there are not one, but two singers stepping into her red Louboutins: 2003 “American Idol” champ Ruben Studdard and his runner-up Clay Aiken.

The two crooners will be decking the halls of Broadway’s Imperial Theatre through Dec. 30, with “Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show.” (Yes, that’s a mouthful of fruitcake.)

“If we had a fifth of the people that come to Mariah, we’d be happy,” says Aiken, adding that Carey will still be there in spirit: “We knew we’d have to sing Mariah’s ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ in the show, but to have us sing that to each other was gonna be a little awkward, so we brought the whole cast [including five supporting players] in on it.”

Fifteen years after they battled in an epic finale that, with more than 38 million viewers, was the most-watched episode in “Idol” history, Studdard and Aiken are back together again for some Christmas merriment that includes musical numbers, skits and personal holiday reflections. Although they are described as “two sworn adversaries” in the opening of the show, the pair are anything but.

In fact, this isn’t the first time they’ve shared the stage since their “Idol” showdown. Studdard and Aiken, both now 40, teamed for their “Timeless” tour of classic songs in 2010. And they came up with the idea for their Christmas show after Aiken went to see Studdard’s tour earlier this year in support of “Ruben Sings Luther,” his album of Luther Vandross covers.

“It’s almost like your high-school classmates or high-school reunion. I think about it in the same way,” says Studdard, the “Velvet Teddy Bear” who still lives in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. — with the 205 area code that he proudly promoted on “Idol.” “I’ve really had a wonderful time working with my friend again.”

Adds the New York-based Aiken: “People still ask us all the time, ‘Are you guys still friends?’ And it’s strange to us that anyone would assume that we aren’t. But when we went back for that finale [of ‘American Idol’ on Fox in 2015], we discovered that competitors from subsequent seasons didn’t and don’t stay in touch with each other. We’ve always stayed connected.”

Still, their paths have gone different ways since “American Idol”: Studdard, divorced with no children, went from becoming a Grammy-nominated R&B artist to competing on “The Biggest Loser” in 2013. Meanwhile, Aiken came out in 2008, finished second on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2012 and ran for the House of Representatives in 2014 (winning a Democratic primary in North Carolina but losing the general election).

Could Aiken have imagined back then that “Apprentice” host Donald Trump would go on to become president? “I don’t think any people imagined it,” says Aiken. “I don’t feel like I was working with the same person that is the president right now. I feel like they’re two very, very different people.”

In the only politically minded moment of Ruben and Clay’s Christmas show, the words to “Baby, It’s Cold Out Outside” have been revamped in response to recent controversy about the original lyrics suggesting sexual misconduct.

“It’s a great song,” says Studdard, who performs it with cast member Farah Alvin, “and getting the opportunity to change the lyrics and bring it more up to date . . . is really fun.”

Adds Aiken: “Doing it as written back in the ’40s might have [been problematic]. Christmas is not a time to offend anyone at all.”


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See Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard Slip Back Into Their American IdolGear, 15 Years Later

See Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard Slip Back Into Their American Idol Gear, 15 Years Later

December 19, 2018 04:55 PM

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard give American Idol fans a blast from the past in their new Broadway show, and PEOPLE has the exclusive first-look.

The two former competitors, who went head-to-head on season 2 of the hit singing competition series, have joined forces for a new limited stage show, Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carole Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show — a night of sketch comedy and holiday songs that’s now open at New York City’s Imperial Theatre.

On stage, the duo, both 40, sound as though Idol was just yesterday, their voices perfectly intact.

And they look a lot alike too, slipping into their old Idol gear during one scene.

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard
Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard
Carol Rosegg

RELATED: American Idol Rivals Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard Will Reunite for Christmas Show on Broadway

Aiken wears a similar cream-colored stripped button-down and khaki pants that helped earned him the love of Claymates everywhere.

Meanwhile Studdard is once again in a red “205” jersey, the numbers calling out the Velvet Teddy Bear’s Birmingham, Alabama, hometown. 

“Ruben looks great in his,” Aiken tells PEOPLE. “But I’m not gonna lie… Mine probably had to be let out a little.”

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard on American Idol in 2003
Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard on American Idol in 2003
Kevork Djansezian/AP/REX/Shutterstock; Everett

Though Aiken and Studdard went up against one another on TV — with Studdard taking the crown — neither felt any rivalry behind the scenes.

“I think it was hard to have that kind of competitive spirit in the way that they had that set up,” Studdard explains. “It felt more like a dorm room.”

“I don’t think we ever felt like competitors on the show, nor since,” says Clay. “We play it up for fun but it’s never been that way for us. We went through this process where, nobody had really done it before. All of us just thought it was going to be a fun experience and nothing else. We didn’t realize there were stakes involved. So we really became friends throughout. I was just as happy to see Ruben win as I would have been had I won.”

Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard
Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard

The two have remained pals over the years, regularly keeping in touch despite their differences.

Says Aiken: “We all have just one or two people in our lives who, no matter how long we may be away from them, make coming back together feel like we had only been apart for a few days. Ruben is like that for me. He’s easily the person who I feel the most kinship and natural rhythm with on stage. So even though it’s been so many years since we have sung together, it really feels like putting on favorite slippers.”

“We are both very different creatures,” Aiken continues. “The things that are important to him — the things he is very particular about — always tend to be things that I am not. And the reverse is true also. But we both know that the other is always gonna look out for us. That trust and loyalty is almost impossible to find. Ruben is that guy.”

“I feel — and I hope and believe Ruben feels the same — safe and protected with Ruben,” Aiken adds. “We still argue all the time, but on stage with Ruben, I never worry. We always look out for each other. If I drop a line, he’ll cover for me. If I hit a bad note, he’ll change what he’s singing to make me sound like I was right. He knows I’d do the same for him.”

And as for others auditioning to the new, rebooted season of American Idol? Studdard suggests they embrace the opportunities that come with the show.

“Many of the young people who audition have been trying to break into the industry. American Idol gives you a platform that shows your talent to such a broad scope of people,” he says. “Even if you don’t win, you notice that there are seven of us who are alums who have had jobs in so many different kinds of industries because of our time on the show. It really opens the doors for people like us who traditionally didn’t have a way to break into the industry.”

Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show is playing through Dec. 30. Tickets are available now.

In true holiday spirit, a portion of all proceeds will go to benefit the National Inclusion Project, the leading voice for the inclusion of children with disabilities.

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Matt Bailey | December 28, 2018 | Concert Reviews


Who said it was time to un-Deck The Halls? Christmas may be over, but Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show (the abridged version of the comically-long title, Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show) Is still going strong.

With a multitude of awards and accomplishments between them (you can read the Playbill, I am saving my words), Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard are best remembered as the runner-up and winner, respectively, of the second season of American Idol. This was in the era before on-demand and streaming distracted from must-watch TV, and Idol was a cultural phenomenon. The season two finale broke viewership records, catapulting Aiken and Studdard to superstardom.

Their Christmas show marries the best of classic holiday variety shows with the amazing talents for which the now-40-year-olds are remembered. The show is a two hour roller coaster of emotion. Aided by a cast of five singers/actors, as well as a set to rival that of any Andy Williams Christmas TV special, the pair make their mark by embracing the best of what makes Broadway, Broadway. Campy costumes, wonderful orchestrations, and all-out spectacle.

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending who you ask — the bar for Broadway Christmas special engagements is upsettingly low. For example, last year’s Home For The Holidays was another show featuring winners of reality talent competition shows. I had press seats to it. It was so lackluster that I opted not to write about it, lest I offend the publicist gracious enough to grant me a pair of tickets.

Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show is a marked improvement. For one, it actually injects the audience with good ol’ holiday merriment. Aiken and Studdard’s voices are as keen as they were 15 years ago, and their fanbase is as loyal as ever.

My personal judgement is that the overall production suffered from pacing issues due to an overemphasis on the comedy and banter, the variety made for an enjoyably classic evening of true entertainment. But, even its most uneven moments, the Broadway-fying of these Idol champs has not damped their ability to belt it and captivate a room.

The pair shine best when they duet, playing off each others’ strong voices and sending the crowd into ovation after ovation. This is Broadway, and so all five co-stars feature with their vocals as well, allowing Aiken to change from one shiny suit to another, or allowing Studdard to put on a gospel robe and prepare to hold a revival.

There’s not much to say about the setlist for this show, lest I spoil one final Christmas present that you should definitely unwrap for yourself. I will say that there are throwbacks to secular carols, religious music, and even some tributes to Laugh-In-style comedy sprinkled throughout. Next year, if the producers learn from the strengths of their leads and adjust the pacing accordingly, they may have an even bigger winner on their hands.

If you are (like me) still in the Christmas spirit and want one last Holiday Hoorah before that big Times Square Ball drops, you need to go see Ruben and Clay’s Christmas Show. Four more performances only through December 30th at the Imperial Theatre. A portion of the ticket proceeds benefit the National Inclusion Project.

[Read More at themusicuniverse.com/even-grinch-could-love-ruben-clays-christmas-show/ © The Music Universe. All Rights Reserved.]

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