The Theatre Artists Studio: Holiday Music and Musings

The Theatre Artists Studio

Holiday Music and Musings

The Theatre Artists Studio, Scottsdale, AZ, December 17, 2023

Reviewed by Lynn Timmons Edwards

The Theatre Artists Studio (TAS) is a magical place where actors, directors, and writers come together to produce some of the most cutting-edge and finely crafted theater in the Phoenix metropolitan area. It’s led by its artistic director and one of its co-founders, Carol MacLeod, and its season’s offerings are chosen from projects that are submitted by members who have made a personal financial investment in TAS. Sustaining memberships are offered to the general arts-supporting public, who then are given priority seating for productions as well as access to workshops and educational offerings taught by its Artistic Members. There are no paid staff members; TAS functions as a not-for-profit cooperative. It was recently awarded a $50,000 grant from the Virginia Piper Foundation which speaks to its credibility.

Full disclosure: I am a former Artistic Member of TAS, and this is the first mention of them in the pages of Cabaret Scenes. TAS produces very few musical revues and cabarets. Its Music and Musings is marketed as a party event, and it brings together original spoken pieces by TAS writers along with, in this instance, Hanukkah and Christmas music.

Kudos to director Susan Back and guest music director Andrea Jill Higgins for taking on the challenge of this year’s M & M, which consisted of 12 songs and six musings. The intimate 100-seat theater boasted an aged grand piano with a menorah atop; a lovely, decorated tree; and plenty of poinsettias. Known for scenic design with projections, this show did not disappoint. Higgins is a gifted pianist, and she supported the solos and group numbers with fine accompaniment. The cast included TAS artistic members Sydney Davis, Pamela Fields, Shannon Noelle Green, Kate Hawkes, Hilary Hirsch, Roy Major, Judy Rollings, Aaron Seever and Janine Smith. Songs that featured the entire cast included “Happy Holidays,” “Home for the Holidays,” and the closer, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Rather than having the cast spread across the small stage, it would have been better if the cast had gathered around the piano. There was a lovely visual moment during the song “Silver Bells”: Hirsch, Rollings, Fields, and Hawkes, with two of them on stools and two of them standing, donned scarves and brought Christmas to light through the song.

Davis has been in local cabarets for years, and she offered two of her tour-de-force numbers: “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” and “All I Want for Christmas.” The latter had a funny line change: “All I want for Christmas is a one-night stand—in Carnegie Hall.” Davis is a fine tap dancer, and I was sorry she was not asked to show off that skill this time. There was very little vocal harmony, but what there was came from Hirsch, who also served as the choreographer. The finest acting on stage was by Fields. Her appearance made the evening more interesting with the musing “That Christmas in Riverside Park,” and she brought to life a beautiful poem, “The Magical Unicorn,” which was written by composer and musical phenom Joe Bousard. Bousard was at the keyboard for many previous TAS Music and Musings, but he was unavailable this year. Australian native Kate Hawkes shared her own story about passing on Christmas traditions through the generations with “Making Magic Across the Hemispheres,” and Aaron Seever appeared in a rabbit suit with his “Holiday Story Telling in Three Easy Steps.”

There was not much comedy, but I did laugh at the husband bashing in “P, B & J,” a story about a blow-up polar bear playing whack-a-mole with two penguins that was told charmingly by Green. Smith soled on “The Christmas Song” and on a strange interpretation of “Santa Baby.” She is an experienced singer, and she and Hirsch have performed many times together with another company. They harmonized on “Lonely This Christmas” and on the beautiful but rarely performed “Light One Candle.” TAS does not use mics; I beliee that doing that would have made it both easier for the actors who were singing and more enjoyable for the audience.

If you’re in Phoenix, check out The Theatre Artists Studio at It is beloved for its annual Summer Shorts (a 10-minute play festival), and in 2024 it begins On Tour, during which they take short plays into the community to spread the word about this hidden gem. TAS is located at 12406 N. Paradise Village Parkway East, Scottsdale.

Lynn Timmons Edwards

Lynn writes and performs themed cabaret shows based on the songs of the Great American Songbook throughout Arizona. She has had three short plays produced in the Theatre Artists Studio Festival of Summer Shorts and is working on a full length play, "Fairy," based on the life of Mary Russell Ferrell Colton, a founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona. In addition to writing and singing, Lynn plays bridge and tennis and enjoys traveling with her husband and artistic companion, Bob. Born in Ohio, Lynn is a graduate of Denison University (BA), Arizona State University (MPA) and has lived in Arizona since 1977.