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Rogers makes his annual rite just right

NYCB Theatre at Wesbury, Westbury, N.Y., December 4, 2013

Reviewed by Kelly Salonica

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It was Top Ten and tinsel as Kenny Rogers took his his 32nd rite of winter - Christmas & Hits Through The Years - on the road.

The night was a two-for-one deal with the first part dedicated to Rogers' hits and the second to the holiday at hand. Rogers' long list of enduring classics quickly took a back seat to his standup style of storytelling. Looking a bit frail (but hey, he's 75), Rogers kicked off with a raspier than usual Love Or Something Like It and stopped singing halfway through the song, giving the impression that he suddenly forgot the words. Rogers explained that when he looked up and saw about 100 people staring at him with their mouths hanging open, it made him stop singing and start laughing.

The feeble audience participation during the chorus of Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town, prompted Rogers to tease them, "Never mind. For God's sakes, I'll do it myself." As soon as the song ended he shared, "That was the worst any group has done that. They did it better in Quebec...and they don't even speak English in Quebec."

Instead of the usual medley, Rogers performed full versions of hits such as Through The Years, You Decorated My Life, She Believes In Me, and Coward Of The County. He continued with Daytime Friends and Buy Me A Rose (to the sound of cat calls from the crowd).

Rogers talked about his recent The First 50 Years show and how thrilled he was that all of the original members of his 1960s band First Edition were there. A video flashback of the group singing Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) on the big screens followed with Rogers slowly explaining each line of the out-there lyrics:
"I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole...and then I followed it in" (he paused so the words had a chance to sink in)
"I watched myself crawlin' out...as I was a-crawlin' in" (now we're laughing thinking "What the...")

Finally Rogers sarcastically summed up the '60s as being seriously screwed up, "Young or old, you have to admit they just don't write songs like that anymore."

New tune Look At You off of Rogers' recently released "You Can't Make Old Friends," had him relying on a teleprompter before returning to the more familiar The Gambler, complete with clips from The Gambler mini-series on the big screens. Not only did the audience sing along (robustly this time), there was a standing ovation. Now on a roll, Rogers followed up with his Grammy-winning tune Lucille. Tossing six tambourines into the audience for duet Islands In The Stream, Rogers invited opening act Linda Davis to join him.

Following a 20-minute intermission to set the stage for the Christmas portion of the evening's festivities (a meager two trees and a couch), Rogers' recited the timeless Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus with a little girl in the role of Virginia. A children's choir followed, singing I Believe In Santa Clause. Dressed in a silver strappy top and red velvet pants, Davis took center stage for Snowed In Christmas, then Rogers cheerily offered up Let It Snow and White Christmas as flakes showered down onto the stage.

Rogers narrated the Nativity story with the costumed children's choir returning for Silent Night, then Davis, donned in an emerald-green strapless gown, joined Rogers for another duet, Mary Did You Know. The award-winning Uniondale High School show choir performed Rhythm Of The Night, then offered up an inspired rendition of Carol Of The Bells. Everyone joined in for Joy To The World and Rogers closed the evening with 'Til the Season Comes 'Round Again and a "Merry Christmas."