The New York Pops, featuring Stephanie J. Block, Brian D’Arcy James, and the Essential Voices USA chorus
by: Jordan Cohen
For most of us, the holiday season tends to bring back warm memories of times past – simpler perhaps, when bringing family and friends together to celebrate the coming and going of another year mattered most. Opening gifts next to the fireplace, building snowmen in the park, feeling stuffed as a goose after Christmas dinner, and napping to the sounds of the football game are all cherished moments we yearn to recall and recreate, especially in these hyper-modern times. Whatever your holiday traditions, nothing brings back long ago memories quite like the New York Pops’ performance of “It’s Christmas Time in the City,” presented over the weekend at Carnegie Hall, and featuring the guest artists Stephanie J. Block, Brian D’Arcy James, and the Essential Voices USA chorus.
The evening of both traditional and contemporary Christmas hits (and an original song by Mr. d’Arcy James), helmed by conductor and New York Pops musical director Steve Reineke, beautifully balanced rich and varied orchestral arrangements with the masterful singing of two of Broadway’s most shining stars. The Essential Voices USA Chorus provided well-calibrated backup for the two special guests and was also showcased on a few songs of their own. Overall, the evening delivered what it promised: all the nostalgia of those Christmases past tinseled with the hymns, carols, and Christmas pop hits we have long known and loved.
Ms. Block, the Tony nominated star of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and many other Broadway musicals, brought to the stage her usual grace and cheerfulness, not to mention those big vocal chops, which she showcased on such classics as “Winter Wonderland,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and “Hard Candy Christmas.” Ms. Block has a winning personality, providing each song with specific meaning and intention using polished and vibrant gestures, facial expressions, and vocal inflections. She showed pop prowess on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and sang “Yes, Virginia” as a loving and lovely tribute to her one year old daughter.
Dressed handsomely in a black tuxedo, Mr. d’Arcy James, the three-time Tony nominated star of Shrek and the current Broadway hit Something Rotten!, delivered classy, Sinatra-like renditions of “The Christmas Song” and “Silver Bells,” with an old-fashioned magnetism. His Jingle Bells was swift, up beat, and culminated in a big-voiced finish. In the second act, Mr. d’Arcy James regaled us with a song he wrote about his childhood Christmases in Saginaw, Michigan. His lyrics, as well as his smooth, classic sound, were filled with sentiment and memories.
The pair also sang several duets throughout the evening, exhibiting great chemistry and polish. They sparkled during “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and showed a ton of personality in “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” “So This is Christmas” was poignant and powerful, especially as back-up by the Essential Voices Chorus.
The chorus, conducted by Judith Clurman, was in fine form throughout the concert and especially great during an up-tempo “Christmas Time is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas and a vocally complex “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The orchestra showed off a diversity of styles, ranging from a jazzy, horn heavy “Winter Wonderland” and a banjo and electric guitar inflected “Jingle Bell Rock,” to a Ravel-inspired “Little Drummer Boy,” renamed “Little Bolero Boy.”
The evening concluded with a fun sing-a-long featuring Santa and his Elf. Everyone raised their voices in mutual elation to toast, through song, this joyous season.
*Photos: Maryann Lopinto
“It’s Christmas Time in the City”: The New York Pops, featuring Stephanie J. Block, Brian D’Arcy James, and the Essential Voices USA chorus
December 18th and 19th
881 7th Ave, New York, NY 10019