The holidays in New York mean decorations, cheer, and yes, holiday shows. None is quite N’Kenge’s “Holiday Magic,” which was performed at Stage 72 on Sunday and Monday evening, Dec. 9-10. N’Kenge, who plays the history-making Mary Wells in Motown the Musical, was set to play a different role that evening: herself. The small venue was packed to the brim with fans and Broadway colleagues alike, eager to see N’Kenge fill the cozy room with her powerhouse voice. Cold rain poured down on the street outside but indoors there was nothing but warmth, as tables were decked out in chocolate and candy canes (courtesy of N’Kenge and her elves) and holiday cocktails. That voice of hers certainly delivered, flawlessly soaring from hit to hit as her outfits became progressively more fabulous and the notes higher. With her bedazzled microphone in hand, N’Kenge showed the audience just what Christmas means to her. With two routines by figure-skater Ilana Sedaka added variety to the cheer, and Samantha Blain and Brittany Duck provided background vocals and some fierce improvisational skills. The classics sung onstage included “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” “My Heart Belongs To Daddy,” “The Christmas Song” and other standards we’ve come to expect each holiday season – with N’Kenge’s own special twist. The performance included audience participation, high notes from her background singers, and Broadway-caliber guest stars. The show was broken down as a number of moving solos sung by N’Kenge interspersed with the voices of guests and hilarious sketches.
The audience became a part of the show itself as cast members repeatedly made their way through the crowd, even dropping off candy at tables. It was particularly delightful to watch as a man from the audience was brought onstage to be dressed as Santa. As N’Kenge serenaded him, his enthusiasm leapt forward and made it clear that he was a big fan of audience participation. A visit from another Santa (a shirtless Santa) brought a whole new level of excitement to the crowd. His wicked dance moves and unbelievable abs made everyone’s evening a bit more flavorful, and he even whisked N’Kenge off the stage for a little intermission. A standout of the evening was N’Kenge’s duet with Tony-nominated Motown star Charl Brown, who Smokey Robinson on Broadway, but that evening he was all about the holiday spirit. He and N’Kenge made “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” come to life with an unmatched vibrancy and charm. Another standout, N’Kenge’s emotionally stirring rendition of “Don’t Save It All For Christmas Day” while glammed up in a shimmering gold dress, certainly left some teary eyes in the theatre. Alongside N’Kenge, the performance featured Saycon Sengbloh, Jamal Story, Charl Brown, Ilana Sedaka, Samantha Blain and Brittany Duck. Benet Braun was the music director. The excited of her fellow Motown stars in the audience made for an extra level of warmth in the room. Actors are known for the presence they bring with them to every situation, and this performance was no different.
The joy that radiated as they watched their fellow star perform was infectious. This feeling of friends coming together made the evening that much more delightful. As she transitioned from song to song and touched on a variety of musical styles, her voice continued to astound audiences. No note was too high or too long for N’Kenge as she effortlessly glided between lyrics. It’s hard to explain the experience of witnessing a professional performer, especially one of her caliber, doing what they do best in such an intimate setting. As many Broadway fans can attest, it’s nothing short of a miraculous reminder of the boundary-pushing and mind-blowing talents that exist in this world. Seeing such a thing up close is a rare gift. Seeing N’Kenge’s host of beautiful gowns up close is another thing entirely, but surely deserves some recognition on its own as it left the audience wanting to play dress-up too. She closed the show out in her best dress of the night; covered in jewels of every color, leaving rainbow reflections on the walls. It was a dress fit for Broadway royalty, as was the entire evening.