THE BLOG
01/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stage Door: Coward at Christmas, James Barbour, Shrek the Musical

'Tis the season to be musical. If your tastes run to cabaret classics, consider Coward at Christmas: A Cabaret for Noel at 59E59 Theaters. Through Jan. 4, Simon Green, a British actor and singer, celebrates Coward's 109th birthday with an evening devoted to the famed playwright/composer's work. Sometimes witty and acidic, sometimes warm and nostalgic, the Coward canon ("Sail Away," "Twentieth-Century Blues," "Someday I'll Find You") is well-served by Green, who seems tailor-made for the intimate space.

Now, Coward is no Gershwin or Porter; his melodies are less catchy and his lyrics less memorable. He is, however, funny and brittle, and a welcomed antidote to the more saccharine aspects of the holiday season. Green, ably accompanied by David Shrubsole, who neatly arranged the music, clearly admires him. Coward at Christmas is punctuated by excerpts from Coward's memoirs, which are archly entertaining. So is Green.

James Barbour, a longtime Broadway fixture (Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, Carousel, Assassins) is holding court upstairs at the venerable Sardi's through Jan. 4 in A Holiday Concert. A powerful presence on stage, his deep, rich baritone also works in a smaller venue. Plus, Barbour is loaded with homespun charm. Though he describes himself as "dark, brooding Broadway guy," he's capable of putting his own spin on soft, sentimental holiday numbers, like "White Christmas." And added bonus - he's joined each night by different Broadway co-stars, including Marla Schaffel from "Jane Eyre" and "Titanic," who ensure a fun evening for the audience. It's a chance to see Broadway regulars in a more relaxed setting. Surrounded by Sardi's famed sketches, Barbour belts out holiday songs his way. For a brooding guy, he connects.

By contrast, Shrek the Musical at the Broadway Theater is notable for being loud and unnerving. The original film was layered; the musical translation is all campy surface. Not that the kids will notice; most are happy to see a familiar face. The adults will be decidedly less enamored. The Lion King this isn't. In the move from big screen to big stage, the lead trio (Brian D'Arcy James as Shrek, Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona and Daniel Breaker as Donkey) have lost some of their original charm. Skilled performers all, they gamely struggle on -- at one point, Foster breaks into a gratuitous Las Vegas-style song-and-dance number designed largely to showcase her legs.

The real fun is when Lord Farquaad (a lively Christopher Sieber) arrives. But his appearance, largely for comic relief, isn't enough to carry the show, which champions the inner freak (with its rousing "Freak Flag") in all of us. Props to costume designer Tim Hatley and a hard-working cast, but Shrek fans should stick to the first two film versions.

Pre-Post Theater Restaurant: Seasonal

Both productions are minutes from Seasonal (132 West 58th St.), a new Austrian/German restaurant and weinbar that transforms a traditionally heavy cuisine into an elegant dining experience. The exquisitely prepared dishes balance sweet and savory; food connoisseurs will revel in the inspired pairings. The appetizers are a revelation -- wild salmon carpaccio with poached quail egg sauce or seared monkfish with baby bok choy. Then graduate to artful entrées, such as the breaded veal cutlet, wiener schnitzel, with potato-cucumber salad and ligonberry compote or the pumpkin-seed-crusted sea bass with butternut squash and black truffles. To truly savor Seasonal, try the chef tasting menu, augmented by outstanding regional wines, such as Gruener Veltliner and Zweigelt. The restaurant's emphasis is fresh, organic and simple, but its versatility is stunning. The cinnamon parfait dessert, enveloped in dark chocolate with fig compote, will astound. This 65-seat Euro chic restaurant is open 11 a.m. till midnight. A night at Seasonal is a night to remember.

132 W. 58 St.; New York, NY
212/957-5550
www.seasonalnyc.com