Toledoans were thankful for one more item this year: Mannheim Steamroller came to town on Thanksgiving Eve and performed a great concert.
The Steamroller gave a solid performance of over 20 different pieces in the two hours they played at the Stranahan Theater. After the initial song, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Chip Davis welcomed the audience members with a prerecorded message. The next hour’s performance contained mostly music from the band’s “Christmas in the Aire” CD including the musical pieces “Christmas Lullaby” and “Joy to the World.” The CD “A Fresh Aire Christmas” was also featured. One tune from that CD, “Little Drummer Boy” was especially memorable due to drummer Tom Sharpe. Sharpe managed to work in some theatrics on the tune, by spinning his sticks between beats and framing his face on pauses.
Conductor and keyboardist Chuck Penington introduced himself and the other four members of MS near intermission. Besides Sharpe, Jeff Yang performed violin and recorders. Glen Smith played instruments including the bass, lute, and guitars, and finally Joey Gulizia, played percussion and woodwinds. Horns, oboes, and string instruments were played by members of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.
The show’s second half opened with “Above the Northern Lights” from “Christmas Song” CD. As longtime fans recognized, the CD version of the song included lyrics by Ed Wilson, and the vocals of Gene Nery add an ephemeral sense to the music. This was one of the few times the band varied from the original music, and it was disappointing to hear only the instrumental version of the song. The rest of the evening was devoted to music from the group’s very first Christmas CD, aptly titled “Christmas.” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Wassail, Wassail” and two versions of “God Rest Ye Marry, Gentlemen” kept people tapping their feet. After a well deserved standing ovation at the conclusion of the night’s performance, the group came back for an encore which included “Stille Nacht (Silent Night).” On MS’s haunting version of this holiday staple, Yang’s violin playing kept the audience awestruck until the last notes faded from the theater.
Perhaps the only flaw in the concert was the use of prerecorded videos that were projected behind and above the band. Since many of Steamroller’s Christmas songs are variations of old traditional songs, the videos were often of medieval courts with jesters and performers. Although the videos matched the songs being played, the recordings were lackluster and sometimes boring; however, the musical performances kept the audience entertained the entire night.
So if you go to see Mannheim Steamroller, don’t expect the mind blowing experience of a Trans-Siberian Orchestra performance with pyrotechnics, dazzling laser show, or brilliant stage effects. Instead, you will see some special effects, like falling snow and fog, and a beautiful use of lighting. But more importantly, you will hear beautiful music that will play in your memory throughout the entire holiday season.
Mannheim Steamroller’s latest Christmas CD, “Christmas Symphony II” is on sale now. If you would like to see the MS show, check the group’s website for locations and ticket information. They will be on their current tour until the end of the year.
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