Regional Reviews: Seattle
Tidings of Joy from Seattle Men's Chorus
Also see David's review of All Shook Up
A sturdy holiday tradition and Seattle Men's chorus's biggest yearly cash cow has turned out as cheery and well baked as a batch of yuletide cookies, in Joy, an ebullient, snappily paced and largely upbeat celebration of the season.
Artistic director Dennis Coleman, who conducts much of each concert, Eric Lane Barnes, Assistant Artistic director and conductor of the chorus's comic sub-group Capt. Smartypants, and Eric Banks, conductor of the more classically bet Æodonis sub-group have utilized all the talented SMC very well in this year's show. What has been notable in the past few seasons is the stronger quality of the soloists in all of the solos, Barnes's great special music and lyrics, and a more diverse lot of men of varied ages and appearances in the chorus.
You can't go as many years as this group and not encore pieces. Yet the familiar works, such as the Nigerian carol "Betelehemu," "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and the chorus's trademark "Silent Night" (with the final chorus totally silent and performed in sign language) seemed especially lustrous this year. Regards to Broadway are paid with the inclusion of a clever "Christmas Fantasy" medley conceived by Barnes, intermingling music from Bernstein's "Quintet" from West Side Story with Johnny Marks's TV score to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Additionally there are a deliciously campy rendition of "I Want To Be a Rocket" from Alan Menken and Tom Eyen's unproduced Kicks: The Showgirl Musical led by the game Rob Norton and some saucy elves in drag, a gut-busting "Annoying Drummer Boy" (by Joanne Bogart and Eric Rockwell of Musical of Musicals fame) and David Friedman's lovely "The Truth About Christmas" with fine solos at the opening night performance by Dan Woolcott, Mark Schmitt, Asher Rowan, Brent Ruth, Richie Wooley and Anthony Paul Gilkinson. It would be unpardonable to omit mention of how beautiful the acoustics are at Benaroya Hall (one of several venues the Chorus stages this show in), especially when a portion of the chorus is positioned on the upper level of the theatre behind the audience with the large group onstage. The sound achieved is positively transporting.
Veteran SMC principal musical accompanist Evan Stults and his musicians never strike a wrong note, and are always a delight. Costumer Doris Black came up with the many fine and fun costumes interspersed with the tuxedos donned by the men for most of the show, and Peter Bracilano's lighting design enhanced the look of the varied numbers. The opening night only guest was Pasco, Washington native and nationally known dance artist/vocalist Kristine W, whose big voice rocked Benaroya. For those attending any other concert in the run however, her absence would not detract in the least. Because the SMC doesn't need additional support to impart Joy with this performance.
Flying House Productions presents the Joy by the Seattle Men's Chorus at Benaroya Hall, 3rd and Union, downtown Seattle, December 17, 20 and 21. For more information visit www.flying house.org.- David-Edward Hughes