It's often said that people don't see the forest for the trees. Applying that logic to a musical or theatrical presentation would suggest that while isolated numbers might land squarely or turn into showstoppers, the production's arc may not provide the evening with much needed continuity.
Happily, that description doesn't hold up when describing the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's “Christmas Show.” This year's offering dazzles the senses thanks to Amanda Foust's expert scenic design, Chris Dallos' evocative lighting, Jeffrey Meek's gorgeous costumes and Vince Leseney's meticulously prepared chorus.
The other key players in this eclectic celebration of the Christmas season are Joel Levine, the accomplished music director who draws some of the most beautiful sounds imaginable from the orchestra; Lyn Cramer, the show's director/choreographer who paints vivid and memorable pictures with her talented cast; and featured soloist Michele Ragusa, a Broadway veteran who can adapt her voice to the most wide-ranging array of musical styles.
The production is filled with surprises, from the choral/orchestral opening “O Come, All Ye Faithful” that captivates the ear with its innovative orchestration, to Ragusa's “All Those Christmas Cliches,” a charming list song that mentions “turkey with all the fixings, streets bathed in twinkling lights and lakes filled with perfect skaters.”
Cory Lingner and Jacob Chancellor turn the “Symphony in Riffs” into a delightful tap dancing display, with each trying to outdo the other and fighting over who got the final bow. Addison Baker, 11, was spot on in “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and received expert support from Campbell Walker Fields, Sam Brown and the children's ensemble.
Leseney's knack for outfitting a familiar melody with new lyrics turned “It's the Hard Knock Life” into a disarmingly humorous rant from Santa's elves about the drudgery they face at the North Pole. “We are just an angry mob, we should get another job,” they grumbled.
Ragusa demonstrated she knows her way around a comedy number with “Santa, Keep Those Reindeer Quiet,” another Leseney standout in which Mrs. Claus shares her frustration with “Nicky” and his 32-hoof riot.
The second act opener, titled “Jukebox Christmas Eve,” took its inspiration from the world of 1960s pop music, with fine renditions of “Big Girls Don't Cry,” “Sherry,” “Blue Christmas,” “Feliz Navidad,” “Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Going from high-energy secular numbers into musical choices that range from the introspective to the wistful can be difficult to negotiate, but the cast managed the transition with poise and confidence.
Ragusa, whose comedy antics and physical appearance brought to mind Tina Fey and Christine Ebersole, had no trouble changing the mood for the poignance of “Count Your Blessings.” Sitting alone on stage, Ragusa turned the Irving Berlin classic into an evocative Judy Garland moment.
The evening's element of surprise surfaced once again in “Star of Bethlehem,” this time with an unexpectedly heart-rending performance by Ragusa and the women of the chorus that gradually built into a gloriously sung ballad about a child's view of the Nativity.
The tears that welled up in my eyes during “Star of Bethlehem” finally broke free in “The Prayer,” the evening's emotional high point, with Ragusa, chorus and orchestra weaving a magical spell that dares the audience not to be touched.
And when Oklahoma City University senior Colin Anderson began singing the number's Italian lyrics in a voice both pure and resonant, this number was a potent reminder of music's capability to touch our hearts. Keep an eye on Anderson — his future looks to be quite promising.
With so many technical, musical, theatrical and visual components, it would be easy for “The Christmas Show” to have the occasional misfire. But the joy, the laughter, the emotional resonance and the musical satisfaction this production delivers makes it the must-see event of the holiday season.
— Rick Rogers