The Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular is supposedly the gold standard for holiday stage extravaganzas. However, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s “IPL Yuletide Celebration”, hosted by Sandi Patty, could give it a serious run for its money. Evidence of that was no more apparent than that experienced by this reviewer at Friday night’s opening of the annual show that continues through Dec. 23 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre downtown on Monument Circle.
The ISO, led by Principal Pops conductor Jack Everly, never sounded better accompanying Patty, who hosted “Yuletide” for the seventh time in its 30-year history. Joining the renowned Christian music star was a large cast of singers and dancers, made up of outstanding national and local talent. Responsible for the superb production values and for the show’s overall high-caliber is executive producer Ty Johnson.
Patty, who was in near flawless form, demonstrated why she is often designated as “The Voice”, a moniker she has earned as a result of her nearly forty years as a five-time Grammy Award-winning singer, during which she has been hailed for her extraordinary vocal range and flexibility. She also showed her dramatic gifts as a storyteller, especially when she sang Christmas carols such as “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Silent Night” and “What Child Is This?” with such conviction that the effect on this writer was visceral. Add to that was Patty’s stage personality that reflected a warmth and sincerity. The result was her delivery of well-written, scripted banter that sounded natural and conversational. Ultimately, the inspirational quality of Patty’s singing combined with her charisma and charm, connected her to an audience that responded with obvious affection.
In a program packed with variety, “Yuletide” was filled with one highlight after another. Included were such perennial favorites as the much loved “’Twas The Night Before Christmas” segment and the tap dancing Santas. New this year was the globetrotting team of David and Dania, who dazzled the audience with their quick change artistry, honed while performing on the European circus circuit.
Especially impressive were the”Yuletide” singers, led by vocal director Greg Sanders. Also artistic director of the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, Sanders’ talents as a choral director were clearly evident in the performances turned out by the singers during “Santatizer,” a number in which Patty, who played Mrs. Claus, helped turn Elves into Santa Claus and songs with an international flavor were sung; a medley of songs from Disney’s “Frozen” during which the men of the ensemble brought down the house with their impeccable harmony and power in “Let It Go”; and “Yuletide Jukebox,” which featured classic pops hits such as “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Happy,” “Sherry,” “All I Want For Christmas,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War is Over).”
Further contributing to the show’s Broadway panache was the expert stage direction and choreography of Jennifer Ladner that resulted in a fast pace with not a single lull and dynamic movement that sparkled with exuberance and vitality.
Responsible for the lavish look and sound of “Yuletide” is the unmatched creative team of costume designer Clare Henkel, lighting designer Stuart Duke and sound designers Randy Hansen and Alan Alford.
Upon exiting the theatre, it occurred to Examiner.com just how extremely fortunate Indy and the surrounding area is to have in its midst such a positive, not to mention first-rate, theatrical diversion as “Yuletide,” especially during a time of such fear and uncertainty. The combination of the incomparable Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the uplifting Sandi Patty and company of accomplished performing artists inspire hope and joy. Whether young or old, it is a singular opportunity that is not to be missed.