Christmas music often gets a bad rap as the same worn-out tunes play over and over in the malls and on commercial radio.
But Christmas songs that sound new and fresh do exist — songs like John Williams’ “Christmas Star” from, of all things, the movie “Home Alone,” and the soulful “Light a Candle” — and are performed in the opening act of “Christmas in Song,” the annual holiday show at Quality Hill Playhouse.
Producing artistic director J. Kent Barnhart, who also serves as emcee, pianist and vocalist, explains he chose songs centered around the themes of light, gifts and love. Be sure to listen to the lyrics because he found songs that don’t just sound pretty but contain a variety of messages about the meaning of the season.
Lindsey McKee brings a wisdom to the poignantly beautiful “God Bless My Family,” perhaps my favorite piece of the first set. LeShea Wright is a one-woman gospel choir on “A Baby Changes Everything.” Vigthor Zophoniasson, the father of a 6-year-old son, is the perfect choice for “Christmas Through a Child’s Eyes.”
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A set of traditional hymns rounds out the first act, but their arrangements give them a new feel. Barnhart’s piano solo rendition of “Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel” captures the magic and the mystery of the Christmas story, and is another of my favorites.
Although “Mary, Did You Know?” is one of those songs that’s been covered by numerous artists, Barnhart’s arrangement differs from the norm; he explains that’s how he hears the song. Wright jazzes it up for a show stopping end to the first act.
Quality Hill is known for its harmonies, and everyone joins in on “One God,” a dramatic opening for the second act and another selection with lyrics that are particularly meaningful. British-born McKee gives a wistful feel to “The Bells of St. Paul,” and Barnhart offers another Christmas love song, the heartfelt “You’re My Christmas.” Zophoniasson’s soaring tenor is simply beautiful on “A Place Called Home.”
Just as families have their favorite Christmas traditions, Quality Hill has them, too. Face it, you’re going to hear “White Christmas.” It’s been sung at every Christmas show but one since the theater opened in 1995. But you hear it with the all-important introduction that sets up the premise for the song. And Barnhart has a surprise for the audience this year (I don’t want to spoil it).
Traditional favorites close out the second act. Zophoniasson delivers an awe-inspiring “Ave Maria,” and he and Wright are so powerful on “More Than Wonderful” that audience members stood as they applauded. McKee manages to follow with the soul-stirring “O Holy Night.” The show ends with the joyful “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
The audience at Monday’s show gave a well-deserved standing ovation.
If there’s anything I miss, it’s some humorous songs, although Barnhart’s droll between-set patter always elicits laughs.
Costume designer Georgianna Londre Buchanan puts the women in sparkling black evening gowns for the first act, and Wright in green and McKee in red for a festive feel in the second half.