All that dazzle

Local actors get in the Christmas spirit with ‘Holidazzle Act II’ release

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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2.5 out of 5 stars
HOLIDAZZLE ACT II
DFW Actors Give Back
Independent

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Two years ago, local actors, musicians and other theater folk banded together for Holidazzle, a CD of Christmas music that featured some amazing voices in town while benefiting the charity Jonathan’s Place. It was a win-win for carol-loving Dallasites.

Now another, bigger chorus of actors is back with a healthy collection of holiday tunes. Holidazzle Act II is filled with heart, but not without a few bumps.

The disc opens strong with “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” featuring Denise Lee, Jeff Kinman, Susan Mills and Darius-Anthony Robinson and impressively displays a crisp production value — from the percussion to the vocals, the sound is crystal clear. It’s a promising start as the music is layered well but with a nice simplicity. And Kerry Huckaba’s bass ends up as a star here.

I have to admit I was worried about their take on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” especially after reading that Jim Johnson, K. Doug Miller, Gregory Lush, B.J. Cleveland and David Coffee were all doing vocals. We’ve all heard it with the signature deep voice, but these guys pull off a great jazzy rendition with different but appropriate personalities for the tune. It’s really hard to get through this one without a smile.

“Snow” from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas movie soundtrack should win over die-hard fans, but at first, this version seems to have too many voices; they eventually come together in a beautiful, cheery mix. The added chorus gives it an old-fashioned, charmingly seasonal touch. This is what you want to hear while gleefully shopping at Macy’s without a care in the world.

RAZZLE ‘EM  |  DFW Actors Give Back’s adult chorus comes together again for a sometimes bumpy but consistently charming ‘Act II.’

RAZZLE ‘EM | DFW Actors Give Back’s adult chorus comes together again for a sometimes bumpy but consistently charming ‘Act II.’

The group knocks it out of the park with the hilarious “Twelve Daze of a Theatrical Christmas.” It may sound inside-jokey, but clever lyrics by Miller make this a viable comedic piece. If you think you’ll be over the repetition of the usual lyrics, don’t worry. They give the song as many twists as possible and they all work.

They also succeed in “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings.” While practically a carbon copy of the Barenaked Ladies/Sarah McLachlan version, it works so well one could easily listen to it over and over.

But the album is not without misses. The cover of Celine Dion’s “The Prayer” has a personal tone but with six voices doing the work, it derails into a mess. While the harmonies are beautiful, the song’s intention is flooded over. Then there’s “Silent Night.” It’s a carol everyone wants to put their stamp on, but it’s also the one listeners tend to want to hear a traditional version of. The chorus here is a bit too chipper; “Night” needs a more Zen-like feel, and the harp challenges the voices rather than working in agreement with them. Even if they wanted to continue in this tone, the song is not audibly smoothed out.

Other tracks lack the lead-in’s excellent production quality. Gary Floyd, Sonny Franks and Todd Hart do sublime a capella work on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” but the voices get tinny in the mix at times. Julie Johnson gives an ideal performance in the fun “Christmas Eve,” but the turned-up bass distracts. The Patty Breckenridge–Ashley Puckett-Gonzales duet works well for the dramatic “Where are You, Christmas,” but the music begins to overrun their voices despite Scott Eckert’s emotional arrangement and direction.

Despite these issues, the album as a whole works magic. There is enough tradition here to appreciate the songs with added freshness on other tunes to make it interesting.

Holidazzle Act II is on sale in local theaters during the holiday season or available online at  DFWActorsGiveBack.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Quite possibly the best pitch to listen to one gay singer’s Christmas tunes

This pitch by out singer Darren Stewart-Jones was one of the best things we saw all week. He’s in a bit of a quandary with his two new Christmas releases. As it turns out, they are the same two songs that are going to be  released by a singer with a much higher profile. So he offered the reasons why LGBT Christmas music lovers should pick his tracks over (or maybe along with) a certain pop star’s.

Subject: Kylie or me…

So, I decide to officially release two Christmas tracks on iTunes this year. A week later, international gay icon Kylie Minogue does the same. And by the same, I mean the exact same two Xmas carols, out of all of the fucking Christmas songs out there. Anyway, I took the liberty of doing some comparison shopping for you. Happy Holidays!

“Santa Baby”
Why you should buy my version…
1.       My version is gay. I mean, the song has always been a little gay but my version is sung by me, a gay man, to Santa, a kind of gay daddy bear, if you will. If you sing along, you don’t have to pretend to be a girl.

2.       Inspired by the It Gets Better project, proceeds from my version go to Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans youth charities, including the LGBT Youth Line here in Canada.

3.       My home-made video on YouTube features naked guys and is really hot!

Why you shouldn’t buy hers…
1.        She is already rich.

2.       Plenty of people will download her version even if you don’t.

3.       She can really grate on your nerves sometimes. Admit it.

“Let It Snow”
Why you should buy my version…
1.       I won’t be making any money from Santa Baby because it is all going to charity so if you download Let It Snow, I actually get some cash.

2.       You really feel a need to support independent, gay artists.

3.       I grew up in Canada so when I sing about snow, I know what I am talking about.

Why you shouldn’t buy hers…
1.       She is already rich.

2.       Plenty of people will download her version even if you don’t.

3.       She is from Australia. What the fuck does she know about snow?

Happy Holidays from Darren Stewart-Jones

Baby Gumm Productions

His cursing isn’t very Christmas spirit-like though. After sampling his music snippets on iTunes, you can compare with these clips of Minogue singing her versions here and find more information about her Dec. 7 holiday release.

—  Rich Lopez

TCC board member will match $500 donations with every song dedication at ‘O Holy Night’ show

The Turtle Creek Chorale just sent over the below notice in which board member Brian Rogers talks up family and tradition. It’s sweet. In it, he proposes a pretty original idea — sponsoring a carol as a sort of glorified dedication. For a $500 donation to the chorale, you can dedicate “Silent Night” to your parents, partner, children, etc. Kinda cool, right? Well, if you have that kinda change, definitely. To sweeten the pot though, Rogers is matching every single donation until Nov. 30. Your dedication will appear in the program, and you’ll get a framed version of it.

This can be tough, though. My favorite carol changes every year, and so far, I haven’t hunkered down with my Christmas music yet. Does Weezer’s “Holiday” count? The Turtle Creek Chorale performs its annual holiday show, O Holy Night, Dec. 15, 20 and 22 at the Meyerson. For tickets, click here.

—  Rich Lopez

Concert notice: Marvin Matthews' Christmas show at The Modern tonight

I’m not sure how this snuck past me but I found out minutes ago, Marvin Matthews is giving a holiday show tonight at the Modern Museum in Fort Worth. The flyer pretty much says it all.

Matthews is a fairly amazing performer as I mentioned before. He’s high-energy, emotional and inspirational. And his voice is un-freakin’-believable. Add to that, Buddy Shanahan and the European String Quartet and you should have a sweet deal of a show. Tickets are $15 and the concert benefits the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

If you make it out, let me know. And if you snag photos or video, even better.

—  Rich Lopez