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

Preservation road

Acclaimed gay musician Michael Feinstein isn’t interested in simply playing the Great American Songbook — he’s also trying to save it

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer  lopez@dallasvoice.com

Michael Feinstein
‘TO THE MOON,’ ALICE | Michael Feinstein performs songs from his new CD at the Winspear Wednesday, but his passion is saving America’s musical heritage for future generations. (Photo courtesy Randee St. Nicholas)

AMERICAN SONGBOOK
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. $25–$125.
ATTPAC.org

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Michael Feinstein is on the road again, touring for his new album Fly Me to the Moon — a reference to a Sinatra song lyric, in keeping with his love of American standards. On this new collection, Feinstein tackles newfound arrangements of classic songs.

But today, Feinstein isn’t being talkative about his latest CD and his tour, which comes to the Winspear on Wednesday. He’d rather talk history — or better yet, rescue it.

The musician began the Feinstein Foundation with the mission of educating and preserving the music from the early half of the 20th century, which included the likes of the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

“Many of these composers had no success during their own lives but there are still many samples of their songs out there in movies or commercials,” he says. “They get rediscovered by a new generation. That what happens with Gershwin all the time. As long as it’s out there, it will continue.”

PBS stepped in last month to help. Feinstein partnered with the Public Broadcasting to produce Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, a three-episode series documenting his work on saving our musical heritage. In it, he documents recording sessions, live performances and gives histories on artists. But the best part is when it turns into the musical version of The History Channel’s American Pickers. He’s not reselling old heirlooms but rather unearthing sheet music, old recordings and memorabilia in attics and dusty storage areas.

“I was approached by [producer] Amber Edwards who wanted to create a show,” he says. “I trusted her with the material so I have nothing to do with that. She followed me around for quite some time and honestly, I didn’t like that in that sense to know someone’s watching you or filming you all the time. But ultimately I accepted it for the purpose of the result.”

With the TV show and his tours and CDs, what Feinstein worries about is getting through to the younger generation. Now in his 50s, Feinstein has been a musical historian, archivist and musician for a quarter century, and throughout that time he was entranced by the classic American songs. He worries, though, that enthusiasm for what came before is waning. He’s not a fan of MTV and even declares that it (along with movies and TV in general) has shattered what focus young people might have with fast editing and lack of details. The Internet hasn’t helped, with the onslaught of social networking and its nurturing of fast-paced information. To him, it has become a “subversive means of destroying attention spans.”

Irony may be his biggest ally. Musical trends now lean toward an appreciation of vintage country music and old-school soul. Feinstein thinks that’s a start and that there are people in Generations Y and Z exploring the American standards.

“People can’t sit still anymore, and it’s an awful thing that’s happened,” he says. “But I do think people are exploring it. It may not be in the Top 40 ever again, but you can find anything on Buddy Clark or Ethel Waters on the Internet. There is more access than ever, so yes, it will survive and take on a life of its own. One never knows what happens with music.”

While those trends toward vintage sounds are on the rebound, Feinstein is not so thrilled with the idea of modern bands taking up the fad of releasing an album on vinyl. In fact, it kinda pisses him off. He grunts with disapproval.

“No, I wouldn’t do a vinyl recording — that’s a stunt,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense, unless it’s recorded in analog, but otherwise, it’s the same. The time for vinyl has passed for new music. I loved my Sinatra project when we recorded with one channel like they did it the ‘50s, but we didn’t put it on vinyl. The people who do it now, it’s bogus.”

With his focus on the foundation’s work, Feinstein doesn’t forget he has an album to promote. For Moon, he collaborated with guitarist Joe Negri. He’s a fan of the collaborations — both professional and personal (he and his longtime partner were married in 2008 by TV judge Judy Sheindlin.) Feinstein did it last year with fellow gay artist Cheyenne Jackson in The Power of Two. That album and the live performances at Carnegie Hall were huge successes for them both.

His approach to Moon plays it a bit more subdued, thanks to Negri’s delicate strumming.

“He was one of the greatest guitarists and very facile,” he says. “Any song I could name, he could immediately play beautifully. This definitely was a meeting of musical minds. He’s magical.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Christmas music by Jews … you're welcome

Streisand

These Christmas songs were all written by Jewish composers and lyricists:

“The Christmas Song” (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (1945) by Mel Tormé (1925-1999) and Bob Wells (born 1922)

“White Christmas” by Irving Berlin

“Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” (1945) by Sammy Cahn (1913-1993) and Jule Styne (1905-1994)

“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks (1909-1985)

“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Johnny Marks (1909-1985)

“Holly Jolly Christmas” by Johnny Marks (1909-1985)

“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” by George Wyle (born Bernard Weissman) (1917-2003)

“Silver Bells” by Jay Livingston (music) and Ray Evans (lyrics)

“We Need a Little Christmas” by Jerry Herman

And then there’s these where one half of the team was Jewish:

“Winter Wonderland” Felix Bernard (1897-1944) (co-composer)

“There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays” Al Stillman (1906-c.1986) (lyrics)

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” J. Fred Coots (1897-1985) (co-composer)

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” Walter Kent (music) born (Walter Maurice Kaufman)

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” Bob Geldof

And this one where the composer was of Jewish ancestry (but not raised Jewish):

“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

And some top-selling Christmas albums:

The # 1 best-selling Christmas album from 1991-2008: “Miracles:  The Holiday Album” by Kenny G. (7,195,000 copies)

He also comes in at #10 with “Faith: A Holiday Album” Kenny G. (2,735,000 copies)

Kenny Gorelick is Jewish.

Other big sellers have been:

Barbra Streisand’s “A Christmas Album” from 1967 – one of the best-selling Christmas albums of all times (see pic above)

and these:

torme Diamond

Midler Bare Naked

Two of three Bare Naked Ladies are Jewish and nothing says holiday like a Bare Naked Christmas.

So with all these Jews writing and recording all this Christmas music, why do we still only have ONE Hannukah song? Oh well.

Merry Christmas.

—  David Taffet