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Photograph by Edmond Kwong

Deck the Halls: Michelle N. Russell and Vanessa Briggs (left to right, top row) and Rebecca Lipon and Diane Milo (left to right, bottom row) play the singing Taffeta Sisters in Tabard's holiday production.

Taffeta Pull

New tunes and chatter add holiday charm to Tabard's 'Taffeta Christmas'

By Marianne Messina

WITH A Taffeta Christmas, a Tabard Theatre Company production currently running at the Triton Hall Pavilion, the singing foursome posing as four Muncie Indiana sisters (a la the Lennon sisters), circa 1959, seems to have moved up in the world since we saw it last spring in the original Tabard show. The sisters now have their own bandstand decked with "The Taffetas" logo in bright lettering. They have taken command of the intimate space by hanging its semicircular back wall top to bottom with red and silver tinsel that dazzles when it flutters in the moving air.

Sisters Kay (Diane Milo), Peggy (Rebecca Lipon is most charming), Donna (Vanessa Briggs) and Cheryl (Michelle N. Russell) have integrated Christmas songs or added Christmas spin to many of the bits that made the spring production work so well: Taffeta Chatter (in which they answer questions chosen by audience members from a hat box), the ads for Galaxy beauty products ("It's simply heavenly!") and the travel medley (in which each picks up the peach, pink, orchid or blue luggage that matches her taffeta dress, and they sing Christmas-adapted songs like "Buon Natale Roma"). At a recent performance, the harmonies were as tight and sweet as ever, but with added reach and depth, including four-part glissandos that held together like a single voice. Some of the really fun parts are the many ingenious ways the Taffetas get the audience to participate: "Oh look, there's Cousin Warren!"

Incidentally, Warren seems to be a regular Queer Eye guy: In the early days, according to the girls, they counted on him to have the latest fashion magazines, plus he designed their original dresses and he's an excellent cook. Put that with Peggy's (in contemporary parlance "light in the loafer") list of favorite male movie stars—Tab Hunter, Sal Mineo, Rock Hudson (she only left out Montgomery Clift)—and it seems that writer Rick Lewis is trying to tell us something. Is he referencing the way homosexuality was coded in the language of the past? Or is he simply underscoring the fact that the ideal girl's sexuality is safely a dead end? "At the top of every good boy's Christmas list" (so they tell us), America's ideal "little ladies" of the '50s claim to dream of finding a man they'll always want to sew, cook and clean for. And yes, the term "aspiring Stepford wives" comes to mind.

But A Taffeta Christmas eschews ardent cynicism. And let's face it, most of us go soft around the holidays (or the light-deprived solstice, if you will), so the play's gentle touch works. In an impeccable production faithful to both the look and music of those bygone girl groups, these "gals" approach the nostalgia with a light whimsical wink. Under the direction/choreography of Nancy Kwong with choreographer Kim Saunders, the Taffetas have added footwork and varied staging, and they punctuate song ends by striking poses with the visual sophistication of a chorus line. That and the Taffetas' detailed, eternally matching accessories (costumer Marilyn Watts) demonstrate that the art of being a female ideal is about carefully choreographed performance.

In the solo numbers, each song goes to the voice and personality that best suits it. Milo's rich, misty voice delivered a velvety "Old Cape Cod," and Briggs' Donna does the character singing (while her three sisters were pageant or prom queens, Donna was a 4-H award winner). She hiccups perfect uh-ohs in "Dream Lover" and goes divinely juvenile in "All I Want for Christmas" with blacked-out front teeth and toothleth lithp.

A Taffeta Christmas, a Tabard Theatre Company production, plays Thursday (Dec. 15 only) at 8pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2:30pm through Dec. 17 at Triton Hall Pavilion, 1900 Don Ave., Santa Clara. Tickets are $22, with discounts for students and seniors. (408.679.2330)

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From the December 7-13, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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