A 35-year-old holiday spectacular that has become one of Central Indiana’s most popular, if not revered, entertainment attractions has returned after a year off due to COVID-19. With a new sponsor’s name attached to it, AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration, presented by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Jack Everly, is back and bigger and better than ever. I saw the show on Sunday night at Hilbert Circle Theatre on Monument Circle in downtown Indy.
Starring Grammy award-winning gospel maven Sandi Patty, who hosts the event for the ninth time, the slick, Broadway-style show also features ISO’s new concertmaster Kevin Lin and the a cappella group T.3 (aka TikTok Tenors) whose fame grew when they appeared on NBC’s hit “America’s Got Talent.”
According to the show’s printed program, a total of 61 vocalists, dancers, actors and specialized performers are in the company. It did not escape my notic there are more people of color in the cast than in previous years, so kudos to the ISO for its efforts toward inclusiveness.
There was an indisputable energy present in the house when Patty took to the stage to welcome the audience, no doubt, due not only to the spirit of the holiday, but also the special joy audiences are experiencing upon the return of live entertainment following months of deprivation. With a stage persona that radiates warmth, kindness and authenticity, Patty is the ideal host for Yuletide because of her ability to connect with the audience. Then, of course, there is that phenomenal soprano voice, with its pure tone that can belt, as well as soar to the greatest heights with ease. Also, a consummate showman, Patty effortlessly demonstrated the ability to make a sometimes-banal script laced with awkward humor sound natural and conversational, rather than stilted.
Highlights of Act 1 included Patty and T.3 together when they opened the show with “For the First Time in Forever” from “Frozen,” and followed with “Joy to The World.” T.3 exhibited their penchant for superb harmony, employing their noted tenor voices when they sang Mariah Carey’s classic “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Performing with them on that number was the dance troupe Expressenz (featured on NBC’s “World of Dance” with Jennifer Lopez) who also shined with the Yuletide dancers in “Holly Jolly Dollies” to music by Tchaikovsky. Singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Patty demonstrated her ability to interpret lyrics with deep conviction. Showing off the majesty of their collective sound, the ISO, which was deeply missed by the community during the worst of the pandemic, were stunning when they contributed instrumentally in “Away in a Manger.” Of course, what would Yuletide be without the traditional tap-dancing Santas? Accompanied by Expressenz, who provided Rockettes-like high kicks, they brought the house down with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” which closed Act 1 with a resounding bang.
Act 2 saw comedian Susie Mosher, playing an audience member and die-hard Yuletide fan, climb on stage to live out her dream of being in the show, performing with Patty, T.3 and company in “A Very Merry Movie Medley.”
For me, the showstopper was new ISO concertmaster Lin, who along with the ISO, played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” imbuing the piece with so much emotion that it brought a tear to my eye. I do not know when I have ever been as moved by a violin solo as I was listening to Lin, whose virtuosity and artistry is top drawer. I look forward to hearing the New York native perform more this season. He will be a real asset not only to the ISO but to our community in general.
And speaking of moving, when it comes to any music linked to her roots in sacred music, no one does it better than Patty, whose rendition of “Silent Night” was a reminder of what the season truly represents. Closing the show, along with T.3 and the company, Patty gave an operatic treatment to “O Holy Night,” which was absolutely thrilling.
Each time I have seen “Yuletide,” and there have been so many I have lost track of the number, I have marveled at the scope and artistic quality of the production that rivals even Radio City Music Hall or any Christmas show I have seen in the U.S. and abroad. It is to the credit of the ISO Pops, led by maestro Everly and executive producer Ty Johnson, that our city can count AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration as one of its premier cultural attractions. There is no question it will spread lots of joy and goodwill to the thousands of people who will see it through its run that ends on December 23. Especially after what we have all experienced during the last year few years, there is nothing more uplifting than its message of hope.
For tickets and information about AES Indiana Yuletide Celebration, visit Indianapolissymphony.org.