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Talented offstage team helps Oklahoma City Philharmonic deliver Christmas show

A behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it takes to produce the Oklahoma City Philharmonic's “The Christmas Show.”
BY RICK ROGERS rrogers@opubco.com Modified: November 22, 2012 at 11:38 pm •  Published: November 25, 2012
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With 20 members of the Philharmonic's Pops Chorale, a dozen dancers (The Mistletoes) and 16 children from the Sooner Theatre and Lyric Theatre's Thelma Gaylord Academy, that's a minimum of four dozen costumes. But the challenges multiply exponentially since most company members change costumes several times during the 90-minute show.

“We build about half of the costumes and buy the rest,” Meek said. “Every other year, we generally create all new costumes. On the off years, about half of the costumes are new.

“If there's a big musical number, I might have 32 people who need one 1950s costume apiece. In the show's finale, there may be 16 women who need evening gowns. Since you can't find 16 matching gowns in one store, you spend a lot of time altering all of that chiffon.”

Not surprisingly, Meek is encouraged to dress his cast in costumes that convey the unmistakable nature of the holiday season. And while dancers costumed as snowflakes and a kick line of Santa Clauses are obvious choices, other designs have a greater degree of subtlety.

“Whatever we're doing, we try to make the music the center of things,” Meek said. “From there, I'm encouraged to make things as Christmas-y as I can. A sea of blue costumes may be beautiful but it doesn't necessarily say ‘Christmas.' We try to stick with iconic Christmas looks.”

Making the music

In early November, Vince Leseney has two six-hour choral rehearsals with a group of singers carefully chosen for the quality of their voices and their ability to blend. Over the years, the Pops Chorale has grown from 12 to 20 singers, the latter being a nice-size chamber choir.

“After classes are out in May, Lyn and I meet with Joel and go through piles and piles of music,” Leseney said. “We end up with a mix of new music and exciting pieces that we haven't performed for a few years. We try not to recycle too much music.”

Leseney writes all of the banter that's exchanged between the featured guest artist (Michelle Ragusa) and the cast members who appear with her in the various musical numbers. He's also quite adept at fashioning new lyrics for well-known songs that aren't necessarily holiday themed.

“In the theater, people backstage like to come up with new lyrics for the songs in the show,” Leseney said. “The first one I did for this show was Irving Berlin's ‘There's No Business Like Show Business.' By adding a few Christmas references, it became ‘There's No Business Like Snow Business.'

“One year, I turned ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' into ‘Boogie Woogie Santa Claus' and ‘Fernando's Hideaway' (from “The Pajama Game”) became ‘Santa's Hideaway.' This year, we're using ‘It's the Hard Knock Life' (from “Annie”) for some disgruntled elves at the North Pole and ‘Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet' has become ‘Santa, Keep Those Reindeer Quiet.' It's a blast doing those.”

Bringing it together

As the cast rehearses, Foust, Dallos and their assistants keep busy assembling set pieces, running cables, hanging lights, programming the computer that controls the lights and then testing everything to see that it's working properly. One glitch can leave cast members in the dark or grind the show to a halt.

Yet when one considers that the individuals responsible for assembling “The Christmas Show” are all masters of their individual trades, it comes as no surprise that any missteps will be corrected well before opening night.

“The creative team has been working together for several years now, so we speak in a kind of shorthand,” Meek said. “I know what information they need to get their work done and they know what I do. Everybody is working toward the same goal. Some might refer to what we do as craziness but we like to call it Christmas magic.”