A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s “The Christmas Show” mixes old and new
The Broadway-style yuletide variety show features guest stars George Dvorsky, a Broadway veteran who sang with the philharmonic at a 2004 pops concert, and Gwendolyn Jones, who played Mrs. Claus in the 2010 holiday show.
Lyn Cramer keeps a specific inspiration in mind when it comes to devising Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s “The Christmas Show.”
“I call it the Carol Burnett of Christmas shows. That’s who I emulate. I try to make it as versatile and funny and clever as the Carol Burnett variety show used to be ‘cause there was something for everyone in that show,” said Cramer, who is marking her 10th year as the director and choreographer of the philharmonic’s annual yuletide extravaganza. “I lived for her show on Sunday nights and it’s wonderful to be able to just even try to match it.”
A seasonal spectacular for the whole family, “The Christmas Show” features Broadway-style song-and-dance numbers, lighthearted comedy, beautiful ballads, well-loved Christmas carols, full sets, lavish costumes and an LED lighting system philharmonic conductor and musical director Joel Levine calls “a technical marvel that can do anything.”
“It’s a very big deal,” Levine said. “There are elements to the show that people love and would like to see every year, and we do (those). There are elements that people want to see every few years, so we have things in the show that come in and go out for our fans. … And then there are things that we bring in for the first time every year.”
“The Christmas Show” again features Stephen Hilton as Santa Claus, The Mistletoes dancers, the Philharmonic Pops Chorale and child performers from the Lyric Theatre and Sooner Theatre academies. In addition, this year’s production showcases two guest stars who are returning favorites: George Dvorsky, a Broadway veteran who sang with the philharmonic at a 2004 pops concert, and Gwendolyn Jones, who played Mrs. Claus in the 2010 holiday show.
“In this case, we have two people and each of the individuals can do dance, can do comedy and are extraordinary singers. So it gives us a lot of chance to play,” Levine said.
The production will showcase Dvorsky’s amazing voice on solos like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
“We’ll have a beautiful ballroom piece going on behind him where an Army veteran is dancing with his wife and she’s dreaming about him returning from the war. There won’t be a dry eye in the house,” Cramer said.
“We haven’t had a male lead in a very long time … so we’re thrilled to have him back. He represents an ability for us to tap into some of our repertory that we haven’t heard or seen in a very long time. And I get to do the fun girly numbers around him, and that’s always a blast.”
Instead of Santa’s spouse, Jones will be playing a variety of characters, but Cramer expects Oklahoma City audiences to warmly welcome her back, especially when she takes on the role of Lolli Pops, a North Pole tour guide who belts the number “The Twelve Days After Christmas” about all the crummy gifts her ex-boyfriend gave her.
“She’s going to bring the house down when she sings it,” Cramer said. “She’s just this comedic force of nature, this woman, she’s just tremendous and she always makes the audience go crazy with laughter. They just love her.”
Old and new
The two-hour yuletide celebration includes about 38 numbers, ranging from classic holiday favorites and beloved sacred songs to more obscure carols and even a few fun selections that aren’t typical associated with Christmas but have been tweaked to fit the show. Savvy musical theater fans will recognize numbers inspired by “Chicago” and “Sweet Charity.”
“It’s a really big show. We’ve been very ambitious,” Cramer said. “We try every year to top ourselves. … We really pride ourselves in that, that you can buy a ticket to the show every year and see something different.”
Along with familiar favorites like “The First Noel” and “Let It Snow,” this year’s show features lesser-known tunes like “Twelve Days to Christmas” from the 1963 Broadway musical “She Loves Me” and a variation on “Abundance and Charity,” from the Madison Square Garden musical version of “A Christmas Carol.”
“We find fabulous arrangements of great Christmas carols that have been jazzed up and rocked up,” Cramer said. “We have a bang-up rendition of ‘I Heard the Bells (on Christmas Day)’ this year that we haven’t done since 2004. … We can bring a new twist to something that makes it feel and sound new though it is traditional.”
Since treasuring traditions is such a part of Christmas, a few aspects of the show remain unchanged every year, including the “Santa Claus Is Tappin’ To Town” number that always closes the first act.
“Last year, we put ‘White Christmas’ at the end of the show and had it snow on stage, and the audience went berserk,” Cramer said. “So, we’re going to try that as a new tradition.”
Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s “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.