It's Christmas Time! w/ How The Grinch Stole Christmas The Musical, Trans-Siberian Orchestra + Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith, Brian Setzer & more

Finally It's Christmas! That's the song I've been listening to all day as Hanson finally released a follow-up to what many (myself included) consider to be one the best Christmas albums ever made, appropriately titled Finally It's Christmas - Check out our full 2017 Christmas Playlist on the home screen!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical! - Dec 5th - Winspear Opera House - Dallas, TX

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…but you’d better not finish that sentence within earshot of the Grinch. Because as we all know, the Grinch hates Christmas, as this touring production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas demonstrates, presented this month by the National Theatre. This December, join the citizens of Who-Ville as they appreciate Christmas for what it truly means to them, with or without their presents.  

Full Cast of ‘Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Photo courtesy of ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ 

Director Matt August’s production of Dr. Seuss’ classic work starts with a big splash. The Grinch Orchestra, conducted by Adam McDonald, leads with a grand opening number featuring all the denizens of Who-Ville. The Whos are decked out like candy canes in red, pink and white, with clothes that balloon out into all manner of shapes and are decorated with wacky patterns, courtesy of Costume Designer Robert Morgan. Set Designer John Lee Beatty brings Dr. Seuss’s creation to life, with a design inspired by the original illustrations—indeed, the houses, hills, and even some of the food items look like black-and-white illustrations in a book. This idea works well with the central concept of the musical: that the events being seen here are a glimpse into the past, a story narrated by an older version of the Grinch’s dog, Max (Bob Lauder). Old Max reminisces about the days of his youth, even sharing a song with a younger version of himself, played with vigor and great warmth by Andreas Wyder. 

 

Philip Bryan’s Grinch is cantankerous and hates everything the Whos do—especially the singing. But he himself is a bit of a ham, which we see during his show-stopping “One of A Kind,” a song where he glories in his own uniqueness. Aided by designer Pat Collins’ flashy, Broadway-esque lighting scheme and sound effects by Ed Chapman, the Grinch prances and preens to his heart’s content. He hatches his plan to ruin Christmas from the Whos by stealing all their food and presents, content with his place in the world as the hated Grinch…until he meets Cindy-Lou Who (played alternately by Julia Rose DiPiazza and Danielle Guilbot), who seems determined to melt his—and the audience’s—heart. Cindy-Lou is the only one who spares a kind thought for the Grinch, supported reluctantly by her family (Vincent DiPeri, Melissa Weisbach, Brian Rooney, and Barbara Bayes). 

In spite of some technical difficulties, including a noticeable malfunction of Young Max’s microphone, the show is a delightful take on Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s story. Because while it may seem to be all about the presents in a production that features no end of visual effects from snowfalls to riding a sleigh down a mountain, it is, in the end, about letting love into one’s life, and accepting someone who is different. This production at the National Theatre is one the whole family can enjoy, and it makes a terrific holiday gift. 

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

 

Amy Grant & Michael W. Smith w/ Jordan Smith - December 2nd - Verizon Theatre - Grand Prairie, TX

The Christmas season is officially underway in the valley with Friday night’s concert at the Abbotsford Entertainment Center. Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and Jordan Smith brought a sold-out crowd a sample of new Christmas music as well as their much-loved hits. Amy and Michael are both established recording artists with multiple Grammy awards and have dominated the Christian music industry for years. It is a perfect blend for Christmas. 

For Grant, ‘Tennessee Christmas’ is her first Christmas recording in over twenty years. The album has traditional Christmas songs on it like Joy to the World, White Christmas, and Baby It’s Cold Outside, a duet with husband Vince Gill. It also has some thought-provoking songs about loneliness and isolation during the season.. A little melancholy, but it’s a reality for many and she wanted to reach out to people that dread ‘the season’ because of dysfunctional family issues or no loved ones at all. “We all need people around us, to connect to us, love us. It’s what the holidays are mostly about”. 

Michael W. Smith released his latest ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ back in 2014 and plays a selection that he dedicates to his Dad as it was a song they often sang together. He promised not to cry but it’s only been a year since “he went to heaven”. There were some not so dry eyes there. Set stage is set with a complete symphony orchestra as well as their Nashville tour band. The sound is excellent, the music in enchanting and the dialogue and stories in-between numbers recall memories and emotions that fill the arena with a warm glow. 

After a few numbers, including an ‘impromptu’ snowball fight and Christmas-lit hula-hoops, Jordan Smith is introduced as the not-so-secret special guest. He enters shyly, smiles at the microphone and belts out ‘The Grinch’ in a voice that is jaw-droppingly good. His range and power show off his ‘The Voice, season 9’’ winning talents. His presentation is still a little stiff though. After an intermission, it’s back to the classics like Grant’s Breath of Heaven, Smith’s Overture/O Come All Ye Faithful and the beautiful instrumental ‘It’s a Wonderful Christmas’ which takes full advantage of the orchestral sound. Jordan Smith comes back for a powerful Silent Night. It’s stunning. It is so good that Michael, scheduled for the next song, says he doesn’t want to follow that and throws the audience under the bus instead with a couple of house-accompanying carols. The audience is more than willing, thrilled to be a part of such beautiful music. Amy agrees with the part about the audience being a big ‘part’ of their show. It’s about the connections, the sharing of time with friends and family and that is what Christmas is all about.

 

Brian Setzer Orchestra Christmas - Dec 12th - Allen Event Center - Allen, TX

Now 25 years into its genre-blurring revivalism, the 19-piece Brian Setzer Orchestra sounded as tight as it gets when the latest installment of the “Christmas Rocks!” Tour stopped by a sold out and gorgeously decorated Rialto Square Theatre. And while there was just as much to look at on a stage with a blinged-out bandstand, toy soldiers and trees galore, the true allure of the show was the musicians themselves, especially the esteemed band leader, guitar wizard and former Stray Cats singer. 

Along with a stack of sheet music, Brian Setzer Orchestra completely turned “The Nutcracker Suite” upside down and then back around, while spreading additional joy during “Jingle Bells” as Santa tossed out candy canes. 

Much of the triple Grammy Award winner’s vast repertoire was on display, including his former band, current ensemble and sounds of the season right up through the most recent “Rockin’ Rudolph” collection. Whether they were “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” playing with a “Hoodoo Voodoo Doll” or taking a “Stray Cat Strut,” Brian Setzer Orchestra provided an endless wall of sound over a flashy presentation. 

Fans of the troupe’s blockbuster album “The Dirty Boogie” (or the original swing era after which it was modeled) got their fix of glistening brass in the title track and “Jump, Jive An’ Wail.” And anyone mourning the loss of country great Glen Campbell or true rock n’ roller Tom Petty were surely touched by proficient editions of “Wichita Lineman” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” respectively. 
On a jazzy note, Setzer turned in “The Christmas Song” all by himself, then brought out a few of the other guys for rockabilly remembrances “Rockabilly Boogie,” “I Got A Rocket In My Pocket” and “Fishnet Stockings.” If it wasn’t a holiday theme, the enduring “Rock This Town” would’ve likely been the finale, but after the main man’s switch from a pinstriped suit to a bright red shirt, it was clear there was more to come. 

Along with a stack of sheet music, Brian Setzer Orchestra completely turned “The Nutcracker Suite” upside down and then back around, while spreading additional joy during “Jingle Bells” as Santa tossed out candy canes. The only element missing in the musical winter wonderland was snow, but an indoor flurry fell just in time for the final bows of a cast who keeps on giving with every version of this annual tradition.

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra - December 22nd - American Airlines Center - Dallas, TX

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s show Saturday at Allentown’s PPL Center was big — and not just in its eight-member band accompanied by a six-member local string section and nine vocalists. Or its production — a huge stage, wall-to-wall screens covered with high-density images and risers that lifted up out of the stage and a walkway that rose above the crowd. 


The show also was big in scope. In 27 songs over two hours and 25 minutes, TSO presented not only the lushly orchestrated progressive rock versions of Christmas songs for which it’s best known, but also a rock opera/theatrical play, some blues and even traditional Christmas music thrown in. 

The concert was offered in three parts. First was an introduction that gave an indication of what was to come: the stage covered in roiling fog, flames, five musicians up on those risers, lots of lasers and even glittery “snow” falling from the ceiling as the group played three of those prog-rock songs. 


The middle was TSO’s 10-song soundtrack to the 1999 TV movie “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” with scenes playing on those screens and narration by too-dramatic storyteller Brian Hicks. 

That segment brought new staging, a theater facade, and the music TSO does best, a mash-up of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “O Holy Night” with a wailing guitar solo, and a prog-rock combo of “Good King Wenceslas” and “Joy to the World.” 

The night’s best was “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” TSO’s first charting song (and only hit) from 1996. It was the concert’s payoff, with that walkway hovering over the crowd and so much fire on stage that the heat was felt halfway through the crowd. 

“Christmas Canon (On This Very Christmas Night),” with four female singers, was elegant, even with a rock treatment. “First Snow” was uplifting, and the guitarists went out to play in the nearly sold-out crowd. (The band’s dollar-per-ticket donation to charity totaled $8,122 for the first of two shows, suggesting the crowd’s size.) 

Surprisingly, two songs that strayed furthest from the TSO formula were among the best. The far more traditional “Promises to Keep” was sacred and touching, and “Music Box Blues,” a straight-up blues offering from a female vocalist, also was the least traditionally Christmas. Oddly, a later “Christmas Nights in Blue” by a male singer, also far from Christmas, was almost Broadway. 

Other songs also weren’t as successful. “What Child is This” came off as overwrought, and a breathy, deep-voiced “For the Sake of Our Brother” was uninspiring until it morphed into “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which with the same treatment was very good. An operatic and dramatic “Carmina Burana” seemed out of place. 

The show’s final segment was a 14-song “Best of TSO,” with band members again going into the crowd on the starting “Siberian Sleigh Ride.” 

TSO briefly paid tribute to two members who died this year — bassist David Zablidowsky (killed in a July bus crash that also claimed area singer Janet Raines) and TSO founder Paul O’Neill, to whom it dedicated a slow and intense “Safest Way Into Tomorrow.” 

But the show’s last segment leaned far more on effects, with a plethora of flames on “Wizards in Winter” and “Madness of Men” and the risers again on “The Mountain.” 

The show ended with a reprise of “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” amid a shower of sparks, fire and even fireworks — a big close to a big show. 

Another big thing about the show, the crowd, seemed to catch PPL Center by surprise. For the first show, five lines all stretched around the building, with a wait some people said was an hour, making them miss part of the show. One culprit seemed to be a ban on large purses, which made people have to rejoin the line after taking them back to cars.

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Photos

Roy Turner

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