The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Holiday Celebration - December 19, 2017
by Dr. Jeff Nelson
Take the most talented neighborhood kid you know and multiply that by 22…that’s El Dorado Musical Theatre’s “High Voltage”! This annual Christmas program (one of their 3 annual public performances) is undertaken by some of the most over-achieving young adults I know. They did a 2-hour concert with complete memorization of the entire program of choreography, dancing and music — and performed it at the end of finals week. Did I mention they started rehearsing at the end of October? Let’s see…if I do the math and I heard they had rehearsals once a week, then that means they produced a very professional show after only 7-8 weeks of rehearsal. In addition, almost every song required a costume change! Want to see some hard-working and talented young people? Look no further than this ensemble…AND their families.
The show opened with a beautiful projection of its title, “Holiday Celebration,” on the Harris Center’s large-hall curtain. Rick Wilson, the CEO of El Dorado Musical Theatre (EDMT) gave some welcoming remarks. Then I turned around to notice the auditorium was almost packed to see EDMT’s premier ensemble begin with a very cleverly choreographed opener from the whole company, “Happy Holidays/Most Wonderful Time.” The accompaniment music was a soundtrack, but it didn’t detract from their high-energy performance.
One of the first things you notice about this show is the immaculate attention to detail of the projections on the entire back screen: moving holiday images of Christmas trees and street scenes, etc. for every new song. The projections added a very warm and exciting dimension to this show. Next was acoustic duet by Dalton Johnson and Luke Villanueva on guitars, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It was elegantly simple, and they both had excellent intonation.
The next selection by the company was “Mele Kalikimaka,” which opened with the girls in gorgeous Hawaiian skirts, dancing with their hands in hula style and singing. The guys joined in later, also with hula dancing and singing. The next piece done by the company was “Silent Night,” and it was highlighted by each member holding a candle light. The vocal sound here was much fuller and richer since they were now singing in parts. (The previous numbers had everyone singing a unison melody.) The diction was flawless, but I found a little American pronunciation slip into some of the German vowels. Yes, they were singing in German…what a nice touch.
“A Place Called Home,” had Ebenezer Scrooge as a young man with his girlfriend singing a duet with the addition of Ebenezer later as an old man to form the final trio. This was tastefully done with an awesome female soloist (Emily Fritz), and two clear and strong male voices, (Stephen Noble and Zach Wilson), with excellent phrasing to round out this trio’s beautiful blend.
“All I Want for Christmas,” the popular Mariah Carey arrangement, opened with four awesome female solos by Jocelyn Haney, Jordan Soto, Taylor Baker and Nittany Biggs, who were later joined by the rest of the ladies for the final chorus. The balance of vocal parts was well done.
“It Feels Like Christmas” was quite a surprise with Asten Fallavollita showing off some puppeteering skills throughout the number only to have it topped off with the entire cast appearing with their own puppets. That’s A LOT of behind the scenes work to accomplish one number!
“White Christmas” featured a beautiful solo by Jordan and then an even better duet sound by adding Liam Roberts, followed by the company for the closing refrains. I noticed that when the chorus/company had chords to sing, they sang them beautifully. My only preference for this show would be that they sing less unison and more parts. They are certainly capable, although I understand the time constraint of learning that much music in such a short period of time.
The entire concert was also expertly signed in ASL by an ASL interpreter.
Knoble and Fritz, Hannah Davis and Biggs got the whole room swingin’ with “Jingle Bells.” This tightly knit trio of ladies was reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters, and you don’t get that kind of authenticity without a lot of hard work. Hats off to Stephen and the ladies for some great tap work and some rockin’ swing!
“Sabbath Prayer” from Fiddler on the Roof, was done in honor of Hanukkah and included an explanation of the Menorah and the lighting of the candles.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” featured a beautiful solo by Carly Speno, a returning founding member of High Voltage from years past.
“Throw the Yule Log On, Uncle John,” by Peter Schickele was done in its normal hilarity, but with more clever choreography than I’m used to. The company executed the choreography well and their vocal parts were full and warm. That’s the thing about this group that is amazing. As soon as you think they’ve pulled out all the stops, they add another little “something” to the mix and make it very fresh again. This was one of the ensemble’s best pieces.
For “Believe,” with Johnson, Izzy Weaver, Davis, Nick Ribadeneira, Fritz, Ty Rhoades and the company, they had a marvelous projection of a snow globe with a “Polar Express” train, and it was wonderful. The opening male and female solos were great and rich sounding, and they complemented the rest of the sextet’s solos nicely. I appreciated the added ASL interpretations by the cast for this piece.
The “Christmas Can-Can” was expertly done with hilarious lyrics and good diction, even while dancing some very athletic movements. The entire company then moved smartly into their closer for Act One, a lively “tap battle” done to an exhilarating Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas track. They certainly gave the audience something to talk over for intermission!
Just to make sure no one fell asleep after intermission, the ladies opened Act Two with a red and white velour Santa jacket lineup à la the Rockettes. You would have to be asleep not to notice that this was the tightest choreography of the evening. These ladies were fantastic.
Knoble returned with the solo, “Grown Up Christmas List” and reminded me a little of Josh Groban’s style. He sounds his best when he is high on the tonal center of his notes.
“That’s Christmas to Me” by the company started by pitch pipe and the vocal parts were spot on. The background was cleverly splashed with baby photos of the singers on the left and their current photos on the right…brilliant idea!
“Baby It’s Cold Outside” was done in a terrific swing setting with the melodies for the chorus in unison. The couples dancing showcased their fun and smart choreography together.
“Where Are You Christmas?” was a delightful duet that was beautifully done by Biggs and Fritz.
I’m not sure how to even describe “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” except to say it looked like it might be a company favorite. This Broadway show-stopper tune from the musical Elf had this very fun ensemble cast dancing in a chorus line and using various props like stars and tinsel trees. It also had hilarious lyrics you will have to look up online to believe!
Davis sang the very cute, “Never Fall in Love with An Elf” with great poise and a powerhouse vocal line.
The “Christmas Waltz” had Kyra Schneider singing an elegantly performed solo. The waltz was performed in a ballroom dance-style complete with the ladies in evening ballroom gowns and the guys in tuxes. This was definitely the classy presentation winner of the night.
“O Holy Night” was a surprising arrangement with an opening female solo and a second female solo which finished up their beautiful intonation as a duet. Biggs and Schneider were then joined by Justin Harvey and Wilson with one of the nicest quartet blends I’ve heard this season.
The background projection for “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was a large American Flag. As Roberts, Fallavollita, and Harvey sang the respective service branch solos, the rest of the guys all filed in, dressed in military uniforms. Pictures of the singers’ relatives were displayed on the screen, also in military uniform from days gone by. This was such a classy salute to servicemen and easily one of my favorite moments of the show.
Jocelyn Haney then led with the very cute solo, “Good to Be Bad,” accompanying herself on ukulele. I noted that every transition in this performance was done with ease from the audience’s perspective. Backstage might have been a different story with all these performer and costume changes, but if it was difficult, it was imperceptible to the audience.
“The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a popular mash-up made popular by Straight No Chaser, was outstandingly done by this ensemble. This is a very difficult arrangement to get right, and they nailed it, with great vocal parts to boot.
“Blue Christmas,” sung by Wilson and accompanied by a Mardi Gras-style soundtrack, was really well done. His intimate tap work was also excellent.
Then the group returned from backstage in completely outfitted Victorian dress to perform “Carol of the Bells.” It was then that I realized they had memorized the entire program.
The final closer was Alan Silvestri’s, “God Bless Us Everyone,” and the vocal parts were very well done for this 22-person group. The curtains closed right after the ensemble was treated to a standing ovation by the crowd.
If you feel like you want to experience more of what our BEST youth have to offer, I recommend you return to the Harris Center for El Dorado Musical Theatre’s encore production of 42nd Street in February 2018 and the next High Voltage show on June 21. I know I will.
Dr. Jeffrey Nelson was born in Seattle, WA and began studying music at the age of 5. He has sung in chamber, popular and theatrical groups and played in orchestral, jazz, symphonic and marching bands throughout his career. He also toured in Europe with the US Army for four years as a vocalist, instrumentalist and choreographer with the 7th Army Soldiers Chorus based in Heidelberg, Germany. He studied and worked with Fred Sautter and James DePriest (Oregon Symphony) and Dr. Bruce Browne (Portland Symphonic Choir) while studying Brass Performance and Conducting at Portland State University. He also studied with Anthony Plog (LA Philharmonic) and was a studio freelance trumpet and vocal artist in Los Angeles before moving with his wife Jennifer to Northern California. He has held conducting positions for Cantare Chorale, Gold Rush Men's Chorus and has been a guest conductor in D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Toronto, Canada with the VA National Medical Musical Group based in Washington, D.C. He currently teaches private instruction in trumpet, voice and guitar in Placerville, CA and is a music director for Church of the Foothills in Cameron Park.