It’s no secret that Mariah Carey is extra festive. A notorious queen of excess, the iconic singer has consistently treated Christmas as less of a holiday and more a state of mind. The signifiers (trees, snowflakes, reindeer) serve as some source of otherworldly inspiration that’s prompted her to release two Christmas albums — 1994’s Merry Christmas and 2010’s Merry Christmas II You — and even celebrate the holiday during the off-season. (She dressed up as Santa for Halloween this year.)
Once again, Christmas came early for Carey with the first of six Yuletide shows at New York City’s Beacon Theater. Expectedly, the sold-out event was a spectacular, replete with a gospel choir, robust dancing troupe and faux snow. Throughout the 75-minute performance, Carey sang originals from her two LPs as well as carols, breathlessly pacing across the stage in a cream sequin dress that she later exchanged for a red-hued ensemble.
For some, the event could be seen as atonement for a string of subpar performances. In recent months, Carey’s vocals have been squeaky and frayed, particularly during a painful performance in Japan in October and, more recently, a widely criticized rendition of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” at NBC’s Christmas in Rockefeller Center special earlier month. For the latter, Carey missed a rehearsal and was forced to sing the song live, perhaps a sign that her vocal control is spiraling with age.
On Monday night, Dec. 15, there were few signs of wear, but it was a frequent case of is-she-or-isn’t-she. In recent years, Carey has often relied on backing tracks when slipping into an upper register, particularly when hitting whistle tones, and compared to clearly live vocal runs, certain stretches were a bit too precise to convince. But that was of little concern, and to overly dissect her vocals misses the point. Even though she battled a few earpiece mishaps — she had to restart the sole secular number “Hero” after sweat caused the device to fall out — Carey accomplished what she came to do: spread Christmas cheer.
The banter was minimal during the set, which featured singles (“Oh Santa,” “Joy to the World”) and deeper album cuts (“When Christmas Comes”), but the message was clear. “This is my favorite time of year,” she said after a tender rendition of “Charlie Brown Christmas.” “We’re pretty aware we have a lot of love and joy onstage with me.” That included longtime collaborator Trey Lorenz, who sang backup and took the reigns for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” during one of Carey’s four breaks, as well as the Broadway Inspirational Voices choir, which backed Carey for “Joy to the World.”
At times, it did feel like an elementary production, bogged by scripted dialogue and hammy set design. (Everything was painted white, down to the monitors at the lip of the stage.) But even when Carey is at her most indulgent, it feels natural. During closer “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” she paused: “Maybe next time we’ll get snow in New York at Christmas,” she said as confetti exploded from the rafters, creating an artificial snowfall. In Carey’s world, Christmas miracles aren’t optional.
Best Halloween ever!!! About to carve a pumpkin in a Santa suit lol pic.twitter.com/pgS4twIf1s
— Mariah Carey #MC20 (@MariahCarey) October 31, 2014