For anybody wondering “Ruben and Clay who?” let’s briefly review:
Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken were contestants on the second season of the American Idol series in 2003. The rivalry between them is credited with driving the show to the top of TV ratings and securing its enduring popularity. Studdard narrowly won the contest over Aiken.
During the 15 years since then, both performers have separately perpetuated their singing careers with successful recordings and tours, and appearances on TV and in film.
The singers now team up for Ruben & Clay’s First Annual Christmas Carol Family Fun Pageant Spectacular Reunion Show, which opened tonight at the Imperial Theatre for a visit through the end of the month.
Anybody who wondered “Ruben and Clay who?” can safely skip this unpretentious attraction, which appears exclusively aimed to please these gentlemen’s admirers.
Fashioned as a variety show, the two-act event opens with Studdard and Aiken striving to out-perform each other in a medley of “Silent Night” and “Come All Ye Faithful,” during which they keep reappearing in glitzier outfits and accompanied by props referencing the likes of Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera.
And so the show toddles along, as Studdard and Aiken banter about who’s better, crack a few jokes about being in New York City, and perform various holiday numbers-—usually separately, occasionally as duets, or as side by side solos of complementary songs. There is a running jest about whose name goes first over the title and another one involving a stocking in which they deposit bucks if anyone says something off color.
Other than a toilet gag punctuated by a flushing noise, there’s nothing objectionable here. Nothing of particular amusement, either.
Obviously the fans are there to hear their idols sing than do anything else. Aiken, whose hair has gone silver over the years, is the far more animated performer of the twosome, and his sugared tenor voice sounds clear and vital. Studdard seems markedly lower in energy to the point of sitting down every now and then, but his gospel-style baritone vocals remain downy in sound.
Their musicianship is more about bravura singing than interpreting the sentiments of songs; they shoot for the big, lasting notes rather than explore any emotional nuances within the lyrics. Perhaps that’s too much to ask for in our meretricious current times, especially with material so familiar as carols and holiday novelty numbers. Still, there tends to be a muchness about such performances when they mostly involve vocal flash while offering scant heart.
The co-stars are abetted onstage by Farah Alvin, Ken Arpino, Julian Diaz-Granados, La’nette Wallace, and Khaila Wilcoxon, who perform with eager zest. Dressed in sparkly black duds, they spell Studdard and Aiken during costume changes, participate in a Laugh-In style joke wall (remember Laugh-In?), and most notably race through a medley of 15 songs in four minutes. Five musicians support the performances.
The production, directed by Jonathan Tessero, still appears a bit rough around the edges in its technical transitions. Designer Ron Bessinger provides some modest but appropriate holiday décor involving stylized fir trees, a rustic fireplace, and green and white arched portals.
The top of the second act presents a brief video regarding the National Inclusion Project, which enables children with disabilities to participate in a range of programs and activities that might otherwise exclude them. A portion of this event’s proceeds will benefit this endeavor. This charitable gesture by Studdard and Aiken may well be the truly nicest thing about their show.
Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show opened December 11, 2018, at the Imperial Theatre and runs through December 30. Tickets and information: rubenandclay.com