‘Holidazzle Act II’ readies for Christmas release

Two years ago, a cabal of five gay North Texas theaterfolk, calling themselves DFW Actors Give Back, gathered their friends and colleagues in a recording studio and laid down tracks to seasonal carols like “O, Holy Night” and frigidly fun songs like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” all sung, played, arranged and produced by the area’s significant local talent. The album, called Holidazzle, was sold during the Christmas season in theater lobbies throughout the Metroplex, will all proceeds raising money for Jonathan’s Place.

We don’t wanna sound ominous, but … they’re ba-aaac-k! And bigger than before.

A total of 40 singers and musicians appeared on Holidazzle; the new CD — called, surprisingly enough, Holidazzle II: Dazzle Harder (not really — I made up that last part; it’s really called Holidazzle II: Electric Boogaloo … No, I lied again; it’s really called Holidazzle Act II) — gathers 150, including a children’s chorus, on just one track, Carly Simon’s “The Night Before Christmas.”

If you can imagine it, they were doing all this work during the stifling heat of summer; as of today, Holidazzle Act II is in the can, with people like Doug Miller, Denise Lee and Bob Hess, pictured, doing their best work, and all for free.

Once again, sales — which start in November at area theaters and performing arts venues — will benefit the charity Jonathan’s Place. But you don’t have to wait till then; you can pr-order now at DFWActorsGiveBack.org. Yeah, it doesn’t feel much like Christmas to me, either, but give retailers a week — they’ll be decking the malls with boughs of holly before your first pumpkin pie.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Review: Turtle Creek Chorale’s ‘O Holy Night’

Last year, the Turtle Creek Chorale performed their holiday concert — because they kinda had to — at the newly opened Winspear Opera House. It was not a success. The acoustics in the hall did not suit choral voice. The hall, larger than the Meyerson, was not filled. The show itself was goofy, with a plot-line (I’ve forgotten what) that wasn’t very funny.

Artistic director Jonathan Palant has said this year’s concert was a kind of greatest hits — favorite songs from past seasons — as well as a homecoming to the Meyerson. And it’s not a funny show … or at least, not filled with shtick. It’s a classic holiday concert, and one well worth seeing. The final performance is tonight.

Of course, there’s the finale, “Silent Night/Peace, Peace,” which includes a soundless verse performed by the entire chorus in American Sign Language; there’s Santa (one of the best out there); there is the poinsettia dedication (182 now fill the stage representing past members). But there are few gimmicks (just the ones we like, such as flamboyant performances by a few members set to the tune “Single Ladies” and the snow effect that ended Act 1). Still, it’s not a somber concert, just a beautiful one; at intermission, I overheard several attendees remark how they enjoyed sticking with the music (Palant himself noted from the podium that he’s not the funniest guy when he’s unscripted) — and they were right.

The performance of “Auld Lang Syne” stood out most of all, as it takes a tune we think we are familiar with an added a lovely, ethereal quality with a tin whistle accompaniment that left a haunting memory in the auditorium. It’s a great way to spend an evening before the holidays.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Good will toward men

Homophobia nearly derailed the TCC’s planned Tyler concert, but some scrambling saved the day — even without drag queens

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

O, HOLY CRAP | A three-year effort for the Chorale to perform in Tyler was almost scuttled, but with a little help from Santa, Jonathan Palant, left, found a solution. Dallas will get its annual Christmas concerts, too. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

O HOLY NIGHT
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 15, 20 and 22.
8 p.m. $30–$67.
TurtleCreek.org.

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Almost since Jonathan Palant took over as artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, he’s been trying to schedule a concert in Tyler. He is friends with the choir director of the Marvin United Methodist Church, a congregation with an inclusive pastor and active concert series. It was all but a sealed deal earlier this year.

Then came word this summer that some powerful members of the church objected to a gay men’s chorus performing. The offer to perform there was revoked.

“At the time, my blood was boiling,” Palant admits. “But teaching acceptance is in our mission statement, and my personal approach is to encourage tolerance. This wasn’t a time for payback. A picture is worth a thousand words, like the one of the TCC standing beside the [all-men] U.S. Army Chorus. That makes more of a statement that a speech could.”

And he wanted to do that same with the Tyler concert.

“We circled back around and found a different location. Within three weeks we had three churches asking to host us. For acoustics and size, we went to the First Presbyterian Church, and they voted unanimously to approve it,” he says. Which means Tyler will be getting its chorale Christmas concert after all.

And the adage no press is bad press seems to be holding true. “Word has it everybody in Tyler is gonna make a night of it — I’m told it will be standing room only in the 750 seat sanctuary. It’s all the more enticing to attend [when you have been banned],” he says.

The chorale is well-known for its campy concerts, even (especially?) at Christmastime, but Palant says he wanted to go old-school this year — both in the slightly truncated Tyler version and the one that returns to the Meyerson Symphony Center for three performances, starting Wednesday.

“Since we’re back at our home in the Meyerson [following last year’s concert at the Winspear], I really wanted to make it ‘home for the holidays’ — your favorite Christmas carols that you could sing along to,” he says. “We’re leaving the plots and the theatrics behind this year and, as one member called it, the deluxe version of the TCC holiday concert because it’s very traditional — very stand and sing or as I call it ‘park and bark.’”

For traditionalists of another kind, however, there are plenty of chorale favorites. On the slate will be the popular Nigerian hymn “Betelehemu” with African drums, a few light-hearted numbers (one, called “Omnes Virginus Levite Manus” should recall the best of chorale humor, but is more invigorating than silly) and there will of course be “Silent Night” performed with American Sign Language solos and the dedication of poinsettias for departed chorale members (the number has grown to more than 180). And Santa Claus will be there as always.

“We have some new arrangements that are unique enough to keep them fresh but the melodies are still there, like an amazing version of ‘Silver Bells,’ a great gospel arrangement of ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee’ and a stunning minimalistic version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ — it’s the version used in the movie Sex and the City,” Palant says.

Sex and the City figuring into a Christmas concert? Sounds like the chorale we’ve come to know and love.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Christmas jukebox

Indigo Girls, Fred Schneider queer up the holidays, but Annie Lennox transforms them with carolful CDs

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

3.5 stars
HAPPY HOLLY DAYS

Indigo Girls
Vanguard

It took decades in the music business before the famed lesbian duo Indigo Girls got around to releasing their first holiday album. Holly Happy Days puts Amy Ray and Emily Saliers in country mode with hoe-down ready songs and a star-studded roster. They could have very well created a lesbian music lover’s wet dream in disc format.

They giddy-up quick with “I Feel the Christmas Spirit,” a ramblin’ tune that leaves out any jingling bells. The fiddle and banjo are the stars in this happy song that doesn’t sound anything like holiday fare —unless you’re in A Very Special Deliverance Christmas.

That same approach makes the traditional carols interesting at least. Neither sings that kind of vocal stretch you’ve come to expect hearing on “O Holy Night” … and thank goodness. There’s no vanity here — “Night” may come off underwhelming, but its Celtic undertones add welcome texture.

Because they respect the carols’ original structures, there aren’t many surprises. That’s made forgivable with easy-to-sing-along numbers like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Who doesn’t want that? The organ backdrop, though, on “Angels We Have Heard On High” feels like you walked in on an old hillbilly church with a two-voice chorus. There’s a charming majesty in the tune along with the layered instrumentation.

Not to discriminate, the Girls cover Woody Guthrie’s “Happy Joyous Hanukah” which almost had me run out to buy a dreidel. The bluegrass influence here is adorable, and despite its minority status, it fits right into the rest of the album. Mary Gaultier and Janis Ian even provide gorgeous background vocals.

They go pop with “It Really Is (A Wonderful Life),” a bouncy song penned by Chely Wright. You almost expect to hear it as a commercial jingle or sitcom theme, but it charms in a way you don’t expect.

For die-hards, Happy Holly Days is Indigo Girls doing what they do best: Acoustic folk (although revved up) and lush harmonies. The non-fan might initially be put off by the woodsy flavor and lack of fuzzy feelings, but with time, their simple approach is refreshing and they prove that less can be more. Besides, the Indigo Girls offer three ornaments in the packaging. Score!
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1.5 stars
DESTINATION … CHRISTMAS!

The Superions
Fanatic

When Fred Schneider branches out from The B-52’s with his side project The Superions to take on Christmas, well, you might as well throw any possible idea you have about holiday music out the window. Schneider and company don’t hold back from turning Christmas on its ear and into a hilarious party on Destination…Christmas! Just try singing these door-to-door without being chased by angry villagers carrying pitchforks.

They get the party started with “Santa’s Disco,” an over-synthesized dance dittie about all the revelry at the North Pole. Christmas Carol cuts loose / Crazy as a goose / It’s so insane / What she does with a candy cane. This alone should paint all the picture you need to see the band’s approach to the season. The “Santa’s Disco” chant gets a little much, but seriously, this is fun stuff.

When the first line is “Whatchu makin? / Fruitcake” in, um, “Fruitcake,” you expect hilarity to ensue. Instead, it’s basically the recipe set to music and as the second track, missteps already   show on the album. The techno beat is engaging, but this song proves early on that this shtick could get old fast.

TROUBLESOME TRIO | Fred Schneider, center, and his side project The Superions should expect a lot of coal for their ‘Destination … Christmas!’ album

It does. The same mistakes happen on “Chillin’ at Christmas” and “Teddy and Betty Yeti.” Schneider opts to talk over great beats, but the stories are not even ridiculous, just, well, stupid. I’m not really sure what he’s trying to do here: Fun is one thing, funny is another, but either he’s trying too hard to be “out there” … or maybe he just doesn’t know what he’s doing. Maybe I just don’t get it, but maybe there’s nothing to get.

There is some redemption in the “Christmas Conga (Jungle Bells).” The ju-ju-ju-jungle bells lyrics and the conga beat are irresistible, with more of Schneider’s talk-singing. The goofiness here is what he should have been doing all over the album.

The production puts Schneider’s voice front and center, which isn’t a good thing. I don’t think I ever realized how bad a singer he is; perhaps neither does he. He’s much better doing the outlandish vocals as he perfected on “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack.” Side projects can allow for artists to change up their sound, but Schneider is so bad here, you start feeling sorry for the rest of the band having to endure it.

And yet somehow, it ends on a high note with “Santa Je T’aime.” An orgasmic fan moans for Santa Claus as he bellows ho ho ho. Think the holiday version of Lil Louis’ “French Kiss” with that climaxing groan.

Even for fans of quirky and out of the box, Destination…Christmas! remains an unworthy purchase. You’re better off selecting the songs you like and buying individually online.

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4.5 stars
A CHRISTMAS CORNUCOPIA

Annie Lennox
Decca

On the opposite end of the spectrum from The Superions is Annie Lennox’s holiday release. Filled with sophistication and heart, A Christmas Cornucopia could be the holiday album this season. With carols most everyone has heard to those she sang as a child, the CD is crisp and festive.

Where we seem to have gotten a softer, kinder Lennox in her solo career, her intensity here actually reminds of how powerful the Eurythmics were in the beginning. “Angels We Have Heard On High” is a beautiful choral piece that bursts with glorious force. Where the Indigo Girls are intimate on this carol, Lennox pushes her voice with abundant strength. She continues that on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman;” both solidly open the album.

ELEGANT HOLIDAY | Annie Lennox makes Santa’s nice list with her gorgeous CD ‘A Christmas Cornucopia.’

Lennox mixes Middle Eastern, European and African influences with ease. She may not sound completely genuine with the French carol “Il Est Ne Le Divin Enfant,” but her earnestness comes across sweetly. Her Middle Eastern touch on “Gentleman” only kicks the carol into a higher gear without stripping away its originality.

Lennox worked with the African Children’s Choir on “Lullay Lullay (Coventry Carol),” a song about the Nativity that is the album’s darkest moment. She compares the song’s message about King Herod’s slaughter of the first-born son to the plight of children in Africa. The tone turns into a borderline buzzkill but she refrains from going too heavy. Still, it’s a shift.

She includes one original song. “Universal Child” finishes the album off with a heartfelt ribbon that ties it up well, though is not especially Christmasy. The advocate work she’s done with children and women in Africa comes out in song here and it’s a gentle touch. (Proceeds from the song go to her foundation to help those communities.)

Lennox delivers wonderfully and producer Mike Stevens succeeds in showcasing both her voice and the different flavors of music and instrumentation. Like the present that’s well wrapped and heavy when you pick it up, A Christmas Cornucopia is a worthwhile one to open.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

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