BWW Review: MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER at the Music Center at Strathmore
For 32 years Mannheim Steamroller, the brainchild of composer/arranger Chip Davis, has been kicking the holidays into high gear. The group's blend of new age and a techno sound has become as big of a holiday tradition for many as seeing the tree at Rockefeller Center.
Such classics as "Deck the Halls" and "Carol of the Bells" (as arranged by Chip Davis) were only part of what made this concert so enjoyable. The music was accompanied by Mannheim music videos. In the case of "Greensleeves" video, it gave you a chance to hear and see the wonderful vocalist Elyse Davis perform the song all over the world.
It was also a treat to hear and see Johnny Mathis (via video) perform "O Tannenbaum," with a full choir. The video gives you an idea of what it takes to put a Mannheim Steamroller recording together. The choir and Mr. Mathis were recorded in two different locations and then mixed together.
Percussion is a big part of the Mannheim sound and Tom Sharpe (drums) and Joey Gulizia (57 varieties of percussion and recorder) really proved that with "Little Drummer Boy." The two players performed the whole number as if they were stiff dolls without losing any sound. It worked to great effect.
Another highlight was Anna Lackaff on Harpsichord/Synthesizer for "Fairies," which is based on a theme from The Nutcracker. Lackaff's long flowing dress and striking, animated presence made her playing even more enjoyable to watch.
Chuck Pennington (Piano/Synthesizer/Conductor) is still playing as good as ever. His solos on numbers like "Auld Lang Syne" are always something to look forward to.
The rest of the band features Mark Angor on violin and Glen Smith on guitar and bass.
Besides the main rhythm section, there was a stellar bunch of local musicians employed just for the evening. The group picks up the strings, reed chair and brass in each city it plays.
Besides all of the holiday music, we also got the chance to hear some of what made Chip Davis famous in the first place. In 1974, he released his first album called Fresh Aire. This was basically the beginning of new age music. My favorites in this section were "Four Rows of Jacks," because it paid homage to Chip's father who was a harpsichord builder, and the driving "Come Home to the Sea." While I enjoyed all of the Fresh Aire stuff, you do have to wonder if it belongs in a separate concert, not a holiday-themed one. You can be the judge of that.
There are reasons why some groups have staying power while others just fade into oblivion. Mannheim Steamroller is still the #1 musical Christmas touring attraction and shows no signs of stopping. This is a testament to the talents of Chip Davis and the musicians that play the tour. It proves that you have to follow your heart and not listen to the recording executives.
Mannheim Steamroller has two companies out this holiday season. I urge to go see them in your town and then you will fully appreciate why audiences continue to make their concerts a family holiday tradition year after year.
Running Time: Two Hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission.
Mannheim Steamroller was a one night two performance event at the Music Center at Strathmore on December 11th 2016.