Holiday at the Elbow Room Café is at its best serving up raucously original numbers

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      By Dave Deveau. Featuring songs by Dave Deveau and Anton Lipovetsky. Directed by Cameron Mackenzie. A Zee Zee Theatre and the Cultch presentation. At the Cultch Historic Theatre on Thursday, December 12. Continues until December 29

      When Holiday at the Elbow Room Café really comes together, it’s glorious, and there’s no better example than Act 2’s musical number “Two Dreidels and a Ladle”. Playwright Dave Deveau’s spiky and sweet charm is on full display in this vivid reworking of the traditional children’s song “I Have a Little Dreidel”, and the show’s stealth VIP, recent Studio 58 graduate David Underhill, turns in a performance that is memorably sassy and fierce, with nods to Beyoncé and Bob Fosse.

      It’s a standout number for both its cleverness and its energy, and for what Deveau and director Cameron Mackenzie do with it. Of all of the traditional songs used in Holiday at the Elbow Room Café, this is the most ambitious rendering, so it’s no surprise it’s the most rewarding. But “Two Dreidels and a Ladle” is also the most fully formed of the show’s traditional songs, and this speaks to a bigger issue with the rest of the production, which often feels like a work in progress.

      Holiday at the Elbow Room Café features songs from Deveau and Anton Lipovetsky’s 2017 hit Elbow Room Café: The Musical, based on the beloved LGBTQ diner of the same name. The original musical was a loving tribute to the infamous restaurant—they served insults and eggs side by side—as well as its proprietors, spouses Patrice Savoie and Bryan Searle, who ran the Davie Street spot for 35 years until Searle’s passing in 2017. The restaurant then closed for good in 2018. A lot has happened in the Elbow Room’s real world since the musical’s debut, and while Holiday subtly acknowledges Searle’s passing, it doesn’t focus on it.

      Holiday presents a world in which the Elbow Room is still open. Searle (David Adams) is still a character in this show, too, as is Tabby (Emma Slipp), the brash southern tourist who enjoyed an eye-opening education in the Elbow Room’s raunchy hilarity in the musical. They both return to try and give Savoie (Joey Lesperance) the holiday spectacular he craves.

      Act 1 struggles with jokes that fall flat, not enough music, and some pacing issues, but Act 2 moves quickly and with more confidence. Holiday revisits a couple of standout numbers from the musical—“Let a Girl Eat” is still a raucous delight—but the bulk of the festive songs are traditionals from the public domain. This is why Holiday shines most brightly with the aforementioned original “Two Dreidels and a Ladle”, a number that is truly inspired.

      I genuinely want to see how this show could evolve with more time and attention. Like its real-life namesake, Holiday at the Elbow Room Café isn’t perfect, but it has a charm that makes me want to return and check out what Deveau and Mackenzie cook up next year.

      Tim Matheson