Regional Reviews: Seattle
Holly Jolly Holiday
Also see David's review of Restoration Comedy
The Seattle Men's Chorus' Holiday Concerts are a tradition for many, many showgoers, and this year's Holly Jolly Holiday is a prime example of what fine shape the chorus is in these days. Under Dennis Coleman's sterling leadership as artistic director, and with inspired support from assistant artistic director Eric Lane Barnes (who leads the comic sub-group "Captain Smartypants") and Eric Banks (who leads the more sedate "AEDONIS" ensemble), the show strikes a perfect balance of comic and somber, classic and contemporary material.
The first act hews more to the reflective side of the season, but as always with a few surprises. Amidst such traditional fare as "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is the lovely "Simple Song" from Leonard Bernstein, and Stephen Schwartz's Mass. Appropriately "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" becomes "The Most Fattening Time of the Year." And for just plain beautiful it's hard to top an "O Holy Night" arranged by Seattle composer/lyricist Scott Warrender, or a velvety act closing "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
In act two, the comic side of the chorus takes over, as the whole group returns to the stage, sans their act one tuxes, now dressed as elves as Santa "Tevye" Claus (played with gusto by chorus cut-up Dan Woolcott) launches the chorus into a "Tradition" parody about the inner workings of Santa's workshop. More Broadway influence is felt in a Kander and Ebbesque version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and in "The Elves' Broadway Christmas" in which the little guys figure out how to get around Santa's no showtunes edict. Choreographer Tony Gilkinson's "Hip Hop Santa Bop" gives some very beary Santas a hilarious chance to step out. A warm look back at Charlie Brown, Linus and Schroeder also scores points.
There is a traditional holiday sing-along and a closing, sign-language version of "Silent Night" led and coached by the chorus' stalwart ASL interpreter Kevin Gallagher that always brings a tear to the eyes. Singer Ann Wilson guested on a few solos at two early performances, and was warmly received. The Benaroya Hall locale for the Seattle area performances, with its amazing pipe organ and peerless acoustics, is the best place to experience the Seattle Men's Chorus, an organization that grows more impressive with each passing year.
The two remaining performances of Holly Jolly Holiday are December 22 and 23 at Benaroya Hall, at 3rd and Union in downtown Seattle. For more information, visit www.flyinghouse.org.- David-Edward Hughes