The BSO's Holiday Spectacular returns in December --… (handout photo )
Except for the most practiced and fortified Scrooge-y types, anyone with an ounce of delight in the Christmas season and its music will find the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's sixth annual Holiday Spectacular well worth a visit.
Quibble, if you like, over the designation "spectacular," but when it comes to spirit and entertainment, the show still delivers. Question, if you like, some of the elements packed into the nearly two-hour production, but somehow, as in past years, it all holds together surprisingly well.
And, by the way, in case you're one those fretting over the increased secularization of the holidays, note that the 2010 version of the show doesn't hesitate to emphasize the Christ in Christmas.
I think half the fun of checking out the Spectacular is just walking into Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, which gets a super-makeover, from lobby to stage, each December for the occasion.
The crucial role of host for the show is taken here for the first time by Maureen McGovern. Saturday's matinee found the seasoned pop singer in impressive voice. Her tone sounded as warm, her pitch as impeccable as ever; her phrasing proved as elegant as her Victorian-redolent gowns, designed by Clare Henkel.
In the scripted dialogue, the singer didn't match the air of spontaneity that a couple of her predecessors in the Holiday Spectacular have managed. What counted, though, was the way McGovern put across the music, including "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and a jazzy medley of snow-theme songs. Even more memorable was her disarming, a cappella version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas," offered as an encore.
New this year is a Las Vegas detour that introduces a Liberace impersonator and Frisbee-catching dogs. I'm all for a little glitz at holiday time, but I'm not sure this application fit all that well with the rest.
Michael Preston's physical appearance as Liberace, decked out in eye-popping capes and sequins, is uncanny. I'm not sure if the dropped or splattered notes in his performance on Saturday were part of the act (Liberace hardly possessed the most pristine of keyboard techniques), but Preston certainly had the superficial, glissando-heavy styling of the famed entertainer down pat.
As for the canine contingent, that comes from an "America's Got Talent" Top 20 act. Tony Hoard and his wonderfully eager, colorfully costumed four-legged partners, Rockin' Rory and Elektra Blu, went through their breathless routines with great flair. They really were hard to resist.
In the midst of all this, the BSO, ably conducted by Damon Gupton, held up its end of the show effectively.
It was good to hear the ensemble step out from the accompaniment role a couple of times, most notably with a dynamic delivery of Carmen Dragon's version of "Deck the Halls," which allows you to imagine how Tchaikovsky would have orchestrated the carol. There also was a vibrant, Celtic-spiced treatment of "I Saw Three Ships."
The popular "Santa Tap" number that closes the first act found the students from the Baltimore School for the Arts tapping away mightily. The chorus offered a smooth sound throughout, but most of the men looked a little, well, substantial to be completely persuasive in the occasional bits of choreography.