The wait is finally over. One of Fort Wayne’s favorite holiday traditions, the Holiday Pops, is back at the Embassy Theatre. The Fort Wayne Philharmonic’s two-week, five-performance event doesn’t disappoint.
This year’s show, as part of the Phil’s 75th anniversary season, has a bit of an Old Hollywood feel. The musical repertoire includes several orchestrations by Carmen Dragon, whose original music and pops arrangements were widely used in TV and film in the mid-20th century.
The energetic and lyrical dance performances hearken back to classic movie musicals and display the talents of Rachel Jones, Heather Closson, Desiree Lantz, Aijaye Crowder, Chandler Chastain, and choreographer Olivia Rang.
The opening number, “Jingle Bell Fantasy,” orchestrated by Carmen Dragon, turns one of the holidays’ simplest tunes on its ear, presenting it in multiple musical styles and showcasing various instruments.
Guest vocalist Lisa Vroman brings years of Broadway experience, a classy sense of humor, and a gorgeous soprano voice to the Embassy stage. With 2,700 performances as Christine in Phantom of the Opera under her belt, her high notes evoke chills. She has astonishing range, singing a torchy rendition of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” accompanied by a jazz trio.
But her voice especially soars with the classics like “I Saw Three Ships/Bring a Torch,” “Go, Tell It on a Mountain,” and “O Holy Night.”
Vroman’s personality shines through not only in her singing but in her audience banter. She even pokes a little affectionate fun at Fort Wayne. She’s actually kind of a hometown girl by proxy. Although she grew up in upstate New York, her sister taught music at Homestead High school for 13 years.
Backing Vroman on several numbers are the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, led by Jonathan Busarow, and the Holiday Pops Chorale.
The Fort Wayne Children’s Choir are also spotlighted with two numbers: “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Mis zeh Hidlik (Behold the Lights),” which also features a beautiful poem reading by one of the young singers.
The Holiday Pops Chorale is comprised of a selection of members of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Chorus as well as a few professional singers. The result is a gorgeous, full blend of voices, all led by Benjamin Rivera.
Santa and Mrs. Claus even make their appearance near the end of the show, and this year’s performance brings back the popular “Santa Tap” number.
Audience participation is another feature of the Holiday Pops that includes a holiday singalong, the Hallelujah Chorus, and the second year of “five gold(en) rings” solos during “Twelve Days of Christmas.” Conductor Caleb Young stopped the song several times to good-naturedly remind the opening night audience that the line was a solo effort.
The Fort Wayne Philharmonic has been described as a cultural jewel for the community. The Holiday Pops wraps up that jewel with a shiny bow as a gift to audience members who might not typically attend an orchestral concert.