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Betty Buckley charms with Seattle Men's Chorus
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Betty Buckley charms with Seattle Men's Chorus

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Santa Baby Seattle Men's Chorus
Benaroya Hall
Through December 20


Thanksgiving is known to kick off the holiday shopping season, but this year it also begins the 30th anniversary of the Seattle Men's Chorus. Starting two days after Thanksgiving, the chorus began with all the festiveness of a seasonal popper. Santa Baby is this year's traditional holiday show from the SMC, and they perform with celebrated stage/television/screen star Ms. Betty Buckley.

Summoned by the music of Benaroya Hall's prominent pipe organ, the chorus of more than 300 men filed in, taking their places among the risers. Under Dennis Coleman's conduction, the chorus invoked the season with a series of traditional carols sung in Latin. For the next two hours, audiences were treated to a combination of traditional, modern and comical songs of the season.

Scenes were performed on the stage while the SMC sung behind. The "Little Shop of Horrors" song, "Downtown" got revised to reflect a comical look at seasonal shopping. Captain Smartypants, a smaller specialty group within the chorus, presented "Ebenezer the Miser," a song retelling Dickens' tale inspired by Cab Calloway. Act One ended with flash and color as the chorus saluted India's repealing of an anti-homosexual law by performing "Bolly Jolly Holiday."Act Two started off with a salute to televised Christmas specials of the past. The chorus sang a variety of songs originally presented on John Denver & The Muppets (c.1979), The Year Without a Santa Claus (c.1974), The Star Wars Holiday Special (c.1978 - yes, Virginia, there really was one!) and The Partridge Family (c.1971), all with reenactments. The tambourine playing "Tracy" (Jeff Erickson) completely stole the scene!

The chorus themselves do a wonderful job, as usual. There is the nod towards Chanukah with "Ma'oz Tzur" and later, an audience sing-along. A salute to Michael Jackson is included with "Thriller Christmas," but the most impressive was "Silent Night." The song's simplistic beauty speaks for itself, but when Kevin Gallagher adds the ASL interpretation, it becomes something majestic. All the musical arrangements, mostly done by David Maddux, are orchestrated well, but like with any choral presentation - and despite the incredible acoustics of Benaroya Hall - the lyrics can sometimes be hard to understand with a conglomeration of 200 voices, no matter how well presented.

As special guest star, Betty Buckley made appearances in both acts. She performed several traditional Christmas carols as well as a lesser-known song written by Joni Mitchell. Ms. Buckley knows her vocal instrument and as she sang, she subtly adjusted the handheld microphone for optimum presentation of her voice. She delivered what could only be described as a purely professional performance, defaulting to her hosting chorus when not singing and only complimenting their work. The powerful clarity of her voice was especially emphasized when singing with only the piano backup of her 20-year accompanist, Kenny Werner. Nothing accentuates this more than the haunting rendition of "Memory," only one reason for Betty Buckley's many accolades. The song's melancholy softness carried the lyrics to every corner of the music hall. Betty Buckley's graceful vocal range demonstrated why this song has become her signature. Despite the many versions the years have presented - with equally numbered presenters - there is nothing like hearing the original persona performing this masterpiece.

The Seattle Men's Chorus is celebrating their 30th anniversary. They have produced many CD recordings of their music and have become a staple for delivering holiday celebrations in the Seattle area. While Ms. Buckley will only be performing with the chorus on the first two days, there will be several concerts, including December 3 at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma and on December 5 at the Everett Civic Auditorium.

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