Stoop Storytelling, BSO's Holiday Spectacular
Published: December 15, 2010
Stoop Storytelling’s O Little Town of Baltimore: A Holiday Live Radio Show
Dec. 16-19 at Center Stage.
Visit stoopstorytelling.com for more details.
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Spectacular.
Dec. 15, 17-19 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
Visit baltimoresymphony.org for more details.
Anybody who has ever had to endure yet another Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol or some other form of holiday programming castor oil can be forgiven for having yet another reason to dread this supposedly most wonderful time of the year. Enduring seasonal Christmas/holiday entertainments can feel like hell, or a very convincing approximation of it right here on earth. Fortunately for Baltimoreans with a hankering to partake of seasonal festivities, right now there are two productions that not only don’t suck, but make holiday shows genuinely entertaining.
Since debuting its first-ever live-radio play in summer 2009, the Stoop Storytellers gang has become quite adept at making a sound program intended for radio broadcast visually engaging. And for O Little Town of Baltimore: A Holiday Live Radio Show, Stoop—founders Jessica Henkin and Laura Wexler, aided by host Aaron Henkin, radio players Prescott Gaylord, Fred Lohr, Heather Moyer, Micheline McManus, and Catharine Robertson, house band ellen cherry, and sound effects man Ron Spencer—wraps up a big, sloppy kiss to the holidays free from artificial sentiment, recycled reminders about what the Christmas spirit really is, and other claptrap that was turned into commercialized nonsense decades ago. Basically, O Little Town knows that sometimes all you need to find that special Christmas spirit is a can of Natty Boh.
Or a stash of some really killer kind bud. Radio skits in this program include satiric odes to the joy of holiday travel (having to rent a car called the “Soul Crusher XE”), being a kid sledding down that legendary hill that has anecdotally claimed lives, a woman gifting a baby high-end luxury goods (jewelry, a Louis Vuitton bag, a Jaguar—because “baby likes kitties”), and a tube-pulling Santa who has his buzz killed when his elves’ labor union rep shows him the horrible working conditions around his toy factory. (Aaron Henkin says the production includes many different skits to make each performance a unique experience.) Sure, this form of comedy is very much public-radio wit, but Stoop gives it enough ridiculousness and local flavor—such as a skit about Ray Lewis and his special second-half socks—to make the interludes fun. Throw in some musical performances—from cherry, who delivered a lovely version of Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family” (“Of course he brought his new wife, Kay/ who talks all about AA/ chain smoking while the stereo plays/ Noel, Noel, the First Noel”) at Sunday’s matinee, Dundalk barbershop quartet BSQ, and local Nepalese pop sensation Prem Raja Mahat—and O Little Town offers a nice amuse-bouche of slightly different holiday fare.
What makes the performances so much more, though, are the storytellers themselves. At Sunday’s performance, Keisha Campbell recounted the one time her mom let her and her sister have a Christmas tree when they were growing up in Baltimore, Kelly Keenan Trumpbour recalled the high school drama of her boyfriend breaking off his date with her before the winter formal (when she already had the perfect dress), Jane Borden talked about how her mother gives her lovely gifts she can’t actually use because they’re valuable family heirlooms, and Gary Gately delivered a moving memory of his father during the holidays, one of the few times he can recall the man being happy. Throw in three audience storytellers, and O Little Town feels less like a program being put on for an audience and more like this informal gathering where we all know the holidays occasionally bring up extreme emotional highs and lows, so let’s help each other get through this mess. (A recording of Sunday’s show airs on WYPR-FM [88.1] Dec. 17 and 24 at noon and 7 p.m.)
And it’s that little sense of “we’re all in this together so lets make it as painless as possible” that powers the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Spectacular, which un-sucks the holiday pops program with sequins. Yes, sequins. With actress/vocalist Maureen McGovern serving as host for the fourth time, you know you’re going to get some beautiful renditions of holiday classics (“O Holy Night,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,”), a fun romp through “T’was the Night Before Christmas,” and the BSO performing lithe and lively arrangements of such holiday usuals, the Holiday Spectacular makes sure it hits some traditional bases. But this year music director Jack Everly put in some old-fashioned Vegas showbiz razzle dazzle too—in the form of a Liberace impersonator (Martin Preston, who has the sing-song vocal lilt down and the electric wardrobe to match), dancing girls in plumed headdresses and sparkly outfits, and some high-kicking, tap-dancing Santas courtesy of the Baltimore School for the Arts dancers. It’s a feel-good production that’s supposed to rouse feel-good sentiments that don’t feel forced or infelicitous. And, really now, Christmas as a whole—and, well, life in general—is much, much better with a side of showgirls.
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