Naughty done nicely: With “Pop the Holidays,” a cabaret goes pleasantly sideways – The Denver Post

Michelle “‘Shells” Hoffman won’t be home for Christmas or Hanukkah or even Chrismukkah for that matter. Instead, the self-identified “bi-religious” daughter of Ronkonkoma, N.Y. — played with brass and verve by Roslyn Hart — will be cracking wise and crooning at the Savoy, a transformed Victorian Era ballroom in Denver’s Curtis Park neighborhood. She also has plans to head up to Aspen, though she’s not quite sure what “après-ski” means.

The Local Theater Company and the folks at the inviting performance venue have injected the room with the sort of nightclub vibe you might find in New York come December – say, for instance Joe’s Pub, the cabaret in the vaunted Public Theater. That’s where “Pop the Holidays: Music With ‘Shells” – created by Hart and Local’s co-artistic director Nick Chase, who wrote and directs this production – began its cheeky life.

Hart was named one of New York’s 50 Funniest People by “Time Out” magazine. She doesn’t disappoint as ‘Shells mixes it up with the audience while singing decidedly un-Xmas-y tunes, in a voice that is not always perfect but is delightfully robust. In another era, she’d be called a “broad.” This is her debut cabaret act, she tells the audience (aka “my fans”).

As her foil on the keyboards, Alec Steinhorn brings a twinkling and winking charm to the show. Among the tunes that Steinhorn (the show’s music director) plays, sometimes with that faraway look pianists get: The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling”; Brittany Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” complete with the expected hairography; and a brilliant gloss on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” For holiday fare, there’s “Santa Baby” and, naturally, there’s a little “pa rum pum pum pum.” If “Little Drummer Boy” was good enough for Bowie, well … .

As free associative as ‘Shells’s chatter appears to be. the show has its structured beats. A running riff finds her checking her phone for texts from her new beau. She even involves an audience member in this compulsive tango of looking at the phone, then pushing it away, then being drawn back to the glowing screen. Will or won’t this new fella be coming to the show?

‘Shells, clad in a silky white dress and silver stilettos (early on, that is) sings, she overshares, and then she sips — a lot. Drinks are available for purchase at the Savoy’s well-stocked bar; there’s also table service. So, you, too, can lubricate the call-and-response exchanges.

As her show goes on and her clear-headedness gets fuzzy, she divulges more and more intimate details. It’s a racy show and ‘Shells is all about TMI. Even so, in the midst of her increasingly sloshy patter, she shares a story about a visit to her older sister in Amsterdam. It’s an extended and touching moment that hinges on Hart’s deft downshift.

Befitting the offspring of two religious traditions, her set comprises a mashup of holiday decorations: wreaths and lights, a stand of small pine trees at the back of the stage, plaid stockings hanging on the mantel and a taxidermized critter craning its neck beside a menorah. I never was sure what that animal was — after the show, someone said perhaps it was a “long-haired possum” – but it sure was dear. The same could be said about “Pop the Holidays” and its beckoning blend of the sentimental and irreverent.


Pop the Holidays: Music with “‘Shells”: Conceived by Nick Chase and Roslyn Hart. Written and directed by Chase. Featuring Hart and Alec Steinhorn. Through Dec. 17 at the Savoy, 2700 Arapahoe. Tickets and information at

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