by Milton W. Hamlin -
SGN A&E Writer
The Seattle Men's Chorus opened Seattle's Christmas season early this year with two Santa Baby concerts last weekend at Benaroya Hall. Broadway's Betty Buckley added glitz and glamour to the opening pair of concerts but otherwise the holiday concerts were business as usual for the busy, busy SMC. The Christmas concerts continue through December 20.
Santa Baby was at the Pantages Theatre in Tacoma last night and plays tomorrow night, December 5, at the Everett Civic Auditorium. The concert and the chorus return to Seattle for December 6, 13, 14 and 20 performances at Benaroya. The Seattle Women's Chorus, the "sister" group to SMC, offers its holiday concert, Making Spirits Bright, at the Edmonds Center for the Performing Arts next Friday, December 11, and on December 19 and 20, at Meany Theatre on the University of Washington campus. Ticket information on all SMC and SWC concerts is available at (206) 388-1400.
SMC celebrates its 30th anniversary season with its 2009-2010 three-concert series. This year's holiday concert offers the usual mix of serious and sacred offerings with the silly and sillier skits. Cultural diversity, as usual, takes center stage often with a touching Jewish entry and a colorful Bollywood salute, "Bolly Jolly Holiday," complete with elaborate costumes and choreography from guest artists, Rhythms Of India.
Elaborate skits and production numbers - a salute to Sesame Street, a Michael Jackson tribute, the "Bolly Jolly Holiday" closer to Act One - delighted the near-capacity audience at the Sunday matinee opening weekend. Captain Smartypants, a highlight for many SMC chorus concerts, had several successful outings. Arnaldo! - Seattle's favorite "drag chanteuse" - officially ended Act Two with the show's title song, "Santa Baby." Arnaldo's entrance, in an oversized gold gift box brought on stage by five nearly naked hunks in skimpy red satin briefs, was a show-stopping moment. Betty Buckley returned to the stage for a second round of Christmas carols with some support from the chorus, and then encored her trademarked "Memory" from Broadway's Cats, to end the nearly three-hour concert. (The remaining shows will be shorter without the special guest appearance by Buckley that highlighted the opening concerts.)
As usual, the show had its bright and brighter moments. Some of the skits misfired, mainly because of muffled projection - it's hard to hear sharp one-liners from a mass chorus or single characters - but some of them were wonderfully on target. In the "Bolly Jolly Holiday" production number, the traditional lyric, "Angels We Have Heard On High," became "Angels We've Heard in Mumbai," a very clever parody. Another hit was Captain Smartypants' "Ebenezer The Miser," a colorful take-off on Cab Calloway's classic "Minnie The Moocher."
Betty Buckley stayed with Christmas carols for her two sequences. A wistful "I Wonder As I Wander" was a highlight among the offerings. Her accompanist of 20 years, Kenny Werner, was seriously underdressed for the program (which started with the SMC in sharp tuxedos), but he was terrifically talented.
As usual, Kevin Gallagher's creative ASL interpretation was a highlight throughout the concert. "Do You Hear What I Hear?" showcased Gallagher and the chorus this year, and an audience-pleasing revival of the ASL signed "Silent Night" was another obvious hit.
The opening number, "Heavy Christmas," was a clever arrangement by David Maddux, offering new Christmas lyrics to famous classical themes, "with apologies" to Wagner, Verdi, Bizet and Tchaikovsky among others. Hearing Verdi's "The Anvil Chorus" turned into a holiday carol was delightful.
Various solos and other guest artists added to the fun (and, alas, the length) of the show. The "something for everybody" programming is always a hit - with so many skits and parodies and camp moments balancing the serious musical offerings every audience member is bound to be pleased with most of the show.
The chorus continues its 30th anniversary season with Olé! Olé! Olé! at McCaw Hall on April 10 and 11 and the annual Pride Concert, Glitter and Be Gay, a salute to the music of Sondheim and Bernstein, June 25 and 26, also at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center. Details on all SMC concerts and activities at (206) 388-1400 or online at www.flyinghouse.org.
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