Holiday Merriment

Arts

December 15, 2005|By KARA WEDEKIND | KARA WEDEKIND,SUN REPORTER

Starting tomorrow, the stage floorboards of the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall will be put to the test.

In the inaugural production of Holiday Spectacular, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will share its performance space with more than 70 other artists, including 20 tap-dancing Santas, Fred Garbo's Inflatable Theatre, the Holiday Spectacular Chorus and an ambitious Mrs. Claus who decides to take over the reins of the family business.

Dori Armor, the director of community programming for the BSO, says the show fuses elements of a more traditional orchestral program with Broadway-inspired set pieces, scenery and spectacle. The performance also cuts across a variety of art forms, where reindeer puppets chase each other across the stage in one scene, Christmas carols are sung in the next and an actor does a dramatic reading of " `Twas the Night Before Christmas" in yet another scene.

Although there is a script for Holiday Spectacular," it is a loose narrative, and Armor described it more as a frame that holds the vignettes together.

Hosting the event is tenor Daniel Rodriguez, the former New York City police officer who gained national attention for his rendition of "God Bless America" after the attacks on 9/11. Rodriguez says that, because of his experiences that day and in the months that followed, he has seen the impact music has on people's lives.

"Working at Ground Zero, working during the dig, working the morgue, we were doing everything humanly possible. For me, though, it wasn't enough," he said. "There were a lot of people who were mourning, a lot of people hurting, and there was something inside me that wanted to help with that as well."

Rodriguez felt that he could help ease some of the pain he saw by giving voice to it.

"Music is an extreme form of expression. There are times when you can sing things that you can't say. Where words fail, the words and melody really sing true and can express what you have in your soul," Rodriquez said.

In addition to television engagements including the Today show, Rodriguez was asked to sing at an estimated 100 funerals after the attacks. At each performance, he made an effort to sing "things that would give people a sense of hope and a sense of comfort, something very positive."

More than four years have passed since then, and Rodriguez still tries to convey something positive when he performs. He says music is transformative for him -- it takes both the performer and the audience "out of the daily grind" of life and connects them to new thoughts and emotions. Holiday music especially transcends the rigors of daily life because it reflects the season of giving, joy and community, he said.

For the concerts, Rodriguez will perform a number of solos, a duet with Broadway-trained singer Gwendolyn Jones and a few numbers backed by the Holiday Spectacular Chorus.

Throughout the evening, the BSO will provide the musical accompaniment, which Jones describes as integral to the performances. "The orchestra just elevates [the singers]. It's so full, it's so rich. ... An orchestra of size can really transport you," she says.

The BSO's Armor hopes that the concerts will resonate with audiences and that the Holiday Spectacular becomes a Baltimore tradition -- the type of show that families return to year after year and that becomes thoroughly linked to their memories of the season.

Rodriguez shares this vision. "The spirit of the show is the spirit of the season, so [the audience] should expect to have a really good time," he said.

With the variety of performers, the engaging visuals and free gingerbread cookies on hand, Armor thinks that the stage won't be the only section of the Meyerhoff that will be packed -- she thinks the audience will reach capacity, too.

"Holiday Spectacular" plays at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., tomorrow, Saturday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25-$75. For more information, call 410-783-8000 or check baltimoresymphony.org.

kara.wedekind@baltsun.com

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