Attention all theater companies and performers: If you've been wondering why it's so hard to recruit new, younger audiences to your shows; why theater as an art form has such a hard time being taken seriously; or even why reviewers get pissier when you put out light, airy puff pieces that miss the mark than they do when you whiff on a more serious attempt—it's because of shows like this one.
It's not that Mars on Life: The Holiday Edition is poorly done. It's well rehearsed, incredibly polished, and pretty to look at. Susannah Mars (she of the show's clever—and modest—title) can sing the shit out of any song you give her, and her back-up band is solid... but that's all part of the problem. Cabaret performance isn't high art. No one buys a ticket expecting to be deeply moved or have their life changed. But they do, and should, expect real emotion—insights from the performer that, when expressed in song, feel like they're happening for the first time, even if they've been carefully rehearsed.
Mars is too well-rehearsed, and it feels more like she's playing in front of her mirror than in front of a smattering of actual living, breathing people who paid far too much to be there. If Mars (or Mars) were a little less lacquered, and a little less carefully timed, it'd be a perfectly fine, puffy, holiday piece that's great for bluehairs and musical theater lovers.
Here, Mars soft shoes, prances, and overacts her way through a series of holiday songs from the traditional to the brand new. If she just sat and sang some songs, it might be palatable. But instead she races around the stage, mugging and aping and begging for laughs. In the context of a musical, that kind of crap works. But alone onstage, Mars can't create the energy to pull it off by herself—and she just looks ridiculous and desperate.
If you're over 60 or the kind of person who un-ironically likes unicorns, this might be the show for you. Otherwise, take a pass and give your money to a company that's actually trying to be relevant. Artists Rep used to be that company. But with some of the stinkers they're picking lately, it looks like they're actively trying to relinquish that title.