BWW Review: Kelli O'Hara's Versatility Shines In OKC Philharmonic's THE CHRISTMAS SHOW
An annual holiday tradition, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's CHRISTMAS SHOW is beloved by many in the Oklahoma City metro area. This year's guest artist, Kelli O'Hara, takes the show to new heights-her voice enveloping the audience like a warm blanket by the fireplace on Christmas Eve.
As one can easily imagine, director/choreographer Lyn Cramer wisely centers this show around Ms. O'Hara, but ensures the rest of the cast does not disappoint. Utilizing local talent and guest artists, Cramer structures the show to make sure there's something for everyone. Though some of the numbers might have been a little cutesy for my personal taste, the children in the audience around me enjoyed them immensely, whereas I was blown away by the final sacred Christmas classics, which utilized Ms. O'Hara's voice and the sweeping grandeur of the Philharmonic to full effect.
The Philharmonic Pops Chorale, showcasing the talents of many of Oklahoma's own local theatre staples-Beth Adele, Brian Hamilton, and Greg White among them-ably proved their abilities in multiple genres. From the classical opening "O Come, All Ye Faithful" to the jolly holiday twist on the GUYS AND DOLLS classic "Fugue for Toyhorns," the Pops Chorale easily carried the audience from one world to another.
Returning to Oklahoma-direct from Broadway's AN AMERICAN IN PARIS-was Cory Lingner; a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Lingner is no stranger to the Civic Center stage. Combining the grace and ease of a ballet dancer with old-school showmanship, Lingner's tap-dancing skills have never been better: his duet with the Philharmonic on "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" was one of the highlights of the evening.
Like Lingner's showstopper, director Lyn Cramer included plenty of moments to showcase the talents of local Oklahoma City dancers. Students from the University of Oklahoma and Dance Unlimited added lots of pep and pizzazz to their songs. Cramer featured their skills in "St. Louis Blues March"-a particular standout was OU student Daryl Tofa-in the 1940s USO section of the show. Since many of our cherished holiday memories harken back to the movies of the 40s like White Christmas and It's A Wonderful Life, this part of the evening was one of my favorites.
On the design side, the lighting by Brad Criswell was magnificent. Sets need to be kept sparse in a concert atmosphere like this one, yet Criswell added a lot of excitement and variety through his design choices. In "Glory To God" and "We Three Kings," Criswell's lighting added subtle dimension to costume designer Jeffrey Meek's gorgeous gowns, enhancing an already-beautiful moment from the Pops Chorale. And Meek's use of bright colors in the Santa's Workshop section of the show created a joyous atmosphere worthy of a Mrs. Claus portrayed by Kelli O'Hara.
Joel Levine once again led the Philharmonic with aplomb. Their performance of Wasson's arrangement of Mendelssohn's "Hark! The Herald Trumpets Sing" made me wish for more songs featuring only the orchestra-I guess I'll just have to return for one of the concerts in their Classics series...I'm definitely looking forward to it.
The true star of the show-and one would expect no less-was Kelli. Ms. O'Hara's voice is on a level unmatched by many. Her renditions of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (with photos of some of her treasured holiday memories providing a nice personal touch), "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" prove how adept she is with a jazzy turn of phrase. While "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "O Holy Night" remind us that Ms. O'Hara's degree is in Opera-and it was here she truly shined. The power of her voice and effortless control of her tone were apparent throughout the evening, but it was her acting choices and stage presence that won me over. Many concert singers have all the vocal chops, but often appear lackluster in their ability to sell a song. Ms. O'Hara, on the other hand, engages her audience on deeper level with her subtlety and assured performance. Equally at home in all genres, THE CHRISTMAS SHOW gives O'Hara the chance to share all facets of her voice, and even lets her break out her dancing shoes now and again.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic has once again given us a special holiday treat-the perfect way to kick of the spirit of the season.
Oklahoma City Philharmonic's The Christmas Show
December 1st-3rd, 2016
Starring Kelli O'Hara. Featuring Cory Lingner, Sheridan McMichael, The Philharmonic Pops Chorale, The Mistletoes, and students from Dance Unlimited.
Music Director and Conductor, Joel Levine; Direction and Choreography by Lyn Cramer; Choral Preparation by Vince Leseney; Set Design and Technical Direction by Amanda Foust; Lighting Design/Programming by Brad Criswell; Props by Courtney Strong; Costumes by Jeffrey Meek; Sound by George Ryan Productions; Additional Choreography by David Scotchford and Amy Reynolds-Reed; Production Stage Manager, Jenny Lang.
Photo credit: Wendy Mutz, Mutz Photography