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Review: Omaha Symphony is big, bold and beautiful in Christmas Celebration

Review: Omaha Symphony is big, bold and beautiful in Christmas Celebration


The Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration got bigger when I wasn’t watching.

Until Thursday night, I hadn’t been to the annual show for several seasons, so I was surprised at its scope.

It seemed to have a larger cast. More elaborate and lush arrangements. More costume changes. And a way bigger sound, even on simple Christmas carols.

The concert was a major crowd-pleaser, and for good reason: An enthusiastic and more-than-capable orchestra. Wonderful professional dancers. Cute kids and a dog. Résonance, a choir that sounded massive in the confines of the Holland Center. And noted Broadway performers Richard Todd Adams, Lindsey Bliven, Siri Howard and Kevin Vortmann.

In honor of a piece from “The Sound of Music” that some try to turn into a holiday ditty, here are a few of my favorite things from the show.

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New takes on old favorites:

  • A Bob Fosse-esque “Deck the Halls” with dancers arranged in a tableau reminiscent of Fosse’s “All That Jazz,” complete with jazz hands. Totally unexpected and enjoyably innovative.
  • An all-instrumental “12 Days of Christmas.” Dissonant chords, instruments reminiscent of the items they represent (piccolo, of course, for the partridge in the pear tree) and the rare essential orchestral part for a piano (as opposed to a performance with a piano soloist and symphony) made this much-heard tune seem fresh.
  • An up-tempo “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” that actually made sense. Instead of some callow singer just ripping through an inappropriate version of this quintessentially sad song that was a favorite during World War II, this began with the classic lead-in about a man dreaming of home then morphed into his vision of that visit, a rollicking and joyful reunion with family and friends. It ended softly and wistfully as he realized that it was only his imagination. Former TV personality Dave Webber, who’s old enough to know the song’s history, was an inspired choice to perform this piece.

Interesting themes and scenes:

  • A “Downton Abbey” take on the holidays. Props and costumes calling to mind the popular PBS television show provided a wonderful backdrop for “Christmas in England 1919,” featuring old English carols such as “I Saw Three Ships” and “The Wassail Song.”
  • “Finding Christmas,” the annual mini-musical in the concert. With 10-year-old Liam Richardson (son of the concert’s conductor, the symphony’s Ernest Richardson) as a boy whose mom is a slave to her cellphone, the piece is a gentle rebuke to our passion for devices and a reminder that sharing memorable times with loved ones is more important than technology.

One amazing tap dance:

  • Erin Moore and Phillip Attmore have astonishing moves and chemistry in a dance inspired by a scene in “White Christmas.”

Soaring carols:

  • “Do You Hear What I Hear” and “O Holy Night” were lofty and inspiring.

The only things that marred an otherwise stellar night were a few sound system crackles and the fact that there weren’t even more songs.

Only the Scroogiest among us wouldn’t find Christmas at this event.

Holiday lights in Omaha through the years

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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