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Newcomers shine in New West Theatre’s Tinsel

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New West Theatre’s holiday season production of “Tinsel,” running at the Yates Theatre until Dec. 31 is all about sharing the love and remembering some of New  West Theatre’s favourite moments over the past few years.Shelby Wilson is performing with New West in Tinsel. Photo by Richard Amery
 Pretty much all of the musical selections include the words “love,” “ heart”  and “you.”


The show opens with a moving arrangement of Lionel Richie’s 1986 hit “Dancing on the Ceiling.” All of the talented cast, including longstanding members Scott Carpenter, Erica Hunt, Kyle Gruninger and Kathy Zaborsky plus newcomers AJ Baragar, Shelby Wilson and Rylan Kunkel, who is part of his first New West show, get to show off  during the group numbers. Shelby Wilson is an instant highlight who stands out immediately from the beginning of “Dancing on the Ceiling.”


 In addition to singing together, they also get to glow in solo spots.


 The newcomers shine especially bright throughout Tinsel.


 AJ Baragar strums guitar  while singing a hilarious rendition of the Arrogant Worms’ “ If I Were Prime Minister,” as “backup singer” Gruninger tries to steal the spotlight from him.

Baragar and Gruninger also play well off each other and together, as they display their acrobatic ability, donning tights and tutus, balancing a big red rubber ball between each other to the tune of a few bars from the Nutcracker Suite played by the crack band of keyboardist Bente Hansen, lead guitarist Scott Mezei, drummer/band leader Paul Walker and bassist/guitarist Greg Paskuski.
Gruninger definitely steals the spotlight on  a version of The Killers’ “ I Believe In a Thing Called Love.”

 But Shelby Wilson definitely left me wanting to hear more after her rendition of “From New York To L.A..” She returns in the second half of the show to do a lovely duet with AJ Baragar of “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”


A highlight of the first half of the show is an outstanding performance of  a cast version of George Harrison’s “ Got My Mind set On You” lead by Baragar.


They end the set on a laid back note, all seated on stools to sing a heartfelt version of  “We Are the World” with each member singing a line.


Rylan Kunkel goes full Elton John in the second set, leading the band on the grand piano while dressed as Elton
 John at his most flamboyant for “Crocodile Rock.”

Erica Hunt belts out “Put A Little Love In Your Heart ” in Tinsel. Photo by Richard Amery
The always lovely Kathy Zaborsky takes on the grand piano for an operatic version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
And you can’t have  New West show without being blown away by Erica Hunt’s powerhouse pipes. This time she belts out a great version of “Piece of My Heart” and a solid duet with Gruninger of “When Will I be Loved.“
 Hunt also dominates most of the comedy bits, bringing back beloved characters with Scott Carpenter including their elderly couple, talking about how old she looks as well as their Scottish movie critics who have a lot of fun, maybe too much fun, reviewing popular Christmas movies.


 There isn’t a lot of Christmas in the “Christmas show,” but there is a lot of peace, love and happiness. Though Kunkel leads the cast through a  medley of “ Little Drummer Boy/ Peace On Earth.”


 There are several outstanding comedy bit including a medley of dad jokes, “ If I Were Prime Minister,” and inspired physical comedy bit about  a mixer for phobics who try not to trigger each other’s phobias.
A highlight of the second set it the lie detecting AJ Bot featuring Baragar, Hunt and Carpenter.
The show ends with a cast version of the B 52s’ “Love Shack” and the apt “What I Like about You.”

Tinsel continues at the Yates Theatre  until  Dec. 30 at  7:30 each night and the New Year‘s Eve champagne show at 7 p.m., Dec. 31 There are also matinees Dec. 23, 26 and 31.

—By Richard Amery, L.A. beat Editor
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