From “Reindeer Express” (1989-90) and “A Yuletide Festival” (1991-97) to “Yuletide Magic” (1998-2003) and “A Very Merry Pops” (2004-10), the Oklahoma City Philharmonic has enjoyed a long history of presenting programs that help put people in the holiday spirit.
This year, the orchestra unveils the newest version of its annual holiday production, aptly titled “The Christmas Show.” As always, the production is a blend of old and new, sacred and secular, choral and orchestral, intimate solos and grand production numbers.
Putting together such a production involves the participation of more than 150 people, with nearly as many people operating behind the scenes as those thrust into the spotlight. With a new production planned this year, I thought I'd solicit input from several participants who help make this production a success.
Joel Levine, music director and conductor, Oklahoma City Philharmonic — “I work with the different members of the team (Eddie Walker, Lyn Cramer and Vince Leseney) to assemble the show. We pick the star(s) of the show, the overall concept, the music, the arrangers and the details of the orchestrations.
Lyn Cramer, director of “The Christmas Show” — Together with Joel and Vince, I conceive and plan the entire production. I direct and choreograph the show. The buck stops with me on scenic design, prop design, lighting design, casting, costume design, selecting and leading the production team, auditioning children and writing the show. While completely collaborative, the company looks to me for leadership in all aspects of the show.
Judy McLane, guest soloist — I'm the hostess for the Christmas Show. I fly in from New York the day after Thanksgiving and join the rest of the cast that has already been in rehearsals. Lyn begins teaching me the staging the morning I arrive.
Vince Leseney, director of the Pops Chorale — My job is to prepare the music with the chorale, and try to keep it in shape during staging. I also write all of the banter and the lyrics to our occasional showtune-turned-christmas songs.
Amanda Foust, scenic designer/technical director — I design the physical surroundings in which the action takes place. This year, 90 percent of the onstage scenery is new, with the remaining 10 percent being altered for a new look. I build many of the new scenic elements and coordinate all the onstage technical elements of the show. Our goal this year was to add more color and depth. Many of the new scenic elements are a bit chameleon-like, capable of changing color or shape to suit the feel of the scene.
Alicia Clark, dancer — I am the featured dancer in the tap numbers and I am also one of the dancing Mistletoes.
Arden Hearne, children's ensemble — We will be singing some of my favorite Christmas songs. We will probably dance a little and I think we are jumping rope.
Lyric Lloyd, children's ensemble — I bring excitement and enthusiasm to this production.
Levine — Since the first production.
Cramer — I was with Yuletide from 1990 to 2000. I've helmed this production since 2004.
McLane — This will be my second time hosting the Christmas Show.
Leseney — I have been involved with the Christmas Show since 1998.
Foust — This is my fifth year.
Clark — This will be my third year.
Hearne — This is my second year.
Lloyd — I have been associated with the Christmas Show for about five years.
Levine — The look on the cast's faces at those “first time” experiences — when the ensemble hears the star sing one of those classic numbers, when the star hears the chorus sing one of those glorious, huge arrangements and the first time we all hear one of the new orchestrations or see marvelous new lighting and scenic elements.
Cramer — I enjoy both dance rehearsals at OU and the rehearsals we have down at the Civic Center before we add production elements. I love the nitty-gritty of the blocking and staging process.
McLane — The first time singing through the show with the orchestra is always thrilling. I also love the energy from the ensemble. Everyone is upbeat and positive. Of course, it's daunting when everyone around you knows the dancing and staging but the kids are all so talented and helpful.
Leseney — The second full day of music rehearsal, when the numbers really start to come together and I can hear how this year's incarnation is going to sound. It's different every year.
Foust — Definitely when the cast moves on stage. Every day, new elements are added to complete the picture. First we see the director's staging with the cast. Next we add scenery and props and start building lighting and sound. Then costumes are added and finally the orchestra. Day by day the puzzle begins to take shape.
Clark — When we finally have a sitzprobe (a seated rehearsal where the vocalists sing with the orchestra, with the focus on integrating the two groups) with the Philharmonic and how wonderful it is when each piece of the puzzle come together to make the show.
Hearne — My favorite part of the rehearsal process is getting to meet new people and sing!
Lloyd — I like meeting new people and making new friends.
Levine — Listening to Erick Devine, as Santa Claus, reading childrens' “Letters to Santa,” some of which were so moving that even he and I cried.
Cramer — Listening to Erick Devine get completely choked up when he was reading letters to Santa during performances a few years back. I've known that man for years. His sincerity is overwhelming. I loved it so much.
McLane — I think my one of my favorite moments was doing “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” with the ensemble men. We had so much fun rehearsing it. Also, when we sang “The Lord's Prayer.” We were all a bit surprised when the audience leapt to their feet in the middle of the show.
Leseney — My fondest memory, hands down, is performing “Winter Wonderland” with Sally Mayes. She's really terrific.
Foust — “The Lord's Prayer,” opening night, 2009. Judy McLane and the chorus sounded so amazing. The audience jumped out of its seat for a standing ovation. And it was the middle of Act II.
Clark — Getting to work with Judy a second time. The first year I did the show, I remember how wonderful Judy was and the lighthearted presence she brought to the stage. Everyone had already meshed so well in rehearsals she fit in just like a glove and made me feel so comfortable. I was only a sophomore in college and she treated me so wonderfully.
Hearne — My fondest memory from last year is Stephen Hilton dressed as Santa Claus.
Lloyd — One of my fondest memories is when my friend Emma lost her shoe on opening night.
Levine — Standing backstage with all the Christmas scenery, props and colorful costumes, and an excited cast, gives me a terrific boost every December.
Cramer — This show is the most fun I have all year. Our production team and most of our talent return year after year for the love of the show. We all have such a great time in a productive but relaxed setting. There is so much warmth and love and fun. Who wouldn't be in the Christmas spirit?
McLane — I love Christmas and there is no better way to get into the spirit of the holiday than singing great holiday music. So much love and care goes into planning this show. Many of the songs bring back childhood memories. Christmas caroling and singing in the church choir were a big part of my childhood. The heart of the show really focuses on the true meaning of Christmas.
Leseney — We start writing the show in June, so Christmas is in my life most of the year. But nothing beats the thrill of seeing and hearing the sacred section in the finished product. It's also gratifying when one of my potential groaners gets a laugh!
Foust — I am lucky because I get to experience Christmas year-round because of this show. Immediately following the show, and sometimes during, we start planning what we might like to see the next year. I have been working on the design of the new scenery for most of the past year.
Clark — Whenever I get my music in November, just listening to all of the varied music used in the show puts me in the mood and reminds me of all of the wonderful things about Christmas I love so much.
Hearne — The show puts me in the Christmas spirit by getting to sing Christmas music.
Lloyd — It helps me laugh and smile when I see my friends and family.
Levine — The joy that comes from having seen a beautiful and exciting show.
Cramer — I hope that audiences leave humming Christmas tunes, feeling entertained and uplifted. We have an extraordinary sacred section this year as well as a brand new USO section. The highlight of Act I will be the huge tap production number to “I Love a Piano” as well as our big kids feature.
McLane — There is such a variety of music this year. Old or young, there is something to which everyone can relate. I hope that our show opens all the little treasures of memories past and their hearts grow a little bit bigger by being a part of it.
Leseney — The second act this year opens with a mock '40s radio broadcast which contains a lovely message to the troops. I think the audience will find it tasteful and uplifting. There are also a couple of really incredible dance numbers that should really knock people out.
Foust — Joy.
Clark — I hope that the audience will take away the same excitement we have onstage at how great this time of the year truly is and how it feels just a little bit special from the rest of the year.
Hearne — I hope people leave remembering that Christmas isn't about the decorations, the presents or even the special time with family. It's about the birth of Jesus. All of the extra fun stuff is just to celebrate one baby born in a manger.
Lloyd — I want them to walk away with a happy heart saying they enjoyed it.
‘The Christmas Show'
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Information: 842-5387 or www.okcphilharmonic.org.