Holiday Pops

by Dick Kerekes
Last Friday night when I entered the Times Union Center, I thought I was in Grand Central Station as there were so many people everywhere! Talking, enjoying beverages, shopping at the Avenue Q souvenir stand or the special tables displaying interesting jewelry, and other merchandise by Symphony supporters. Everyone was waiting for the doors to open either for the Moran Theatre and FCCJ’s Avenue Q or the Robert E. Jacoby Symphony Hall for the Jacksonville Symphony’s annual Holiday Pops Concert.
If you are a regular reader of Entertaining U, you may have noticed that this third Symphony event I have covered in 2008 even though I am principally a theatre critic. Why? Theatre and Symphony, have discovered they have much to contribute to each other and it has been a win-win situation especially patrons of both entertainment venues. In 2008, the Symphony and the Alhambra Dinner Theatre jointly produced The Music Man and West Side Story. Both were wonderfully received and very successful.
For the Holiday Pops-Home for the Holidays, the Symphony recognized the talents of two exceptional performers and award winning singers from the Jacksonville musical theatre scene. Staci Cobb and Josh Waller were guest vocalists and were certainly a big hit with the full house audience on this evening. Ms. Cobb, dressed in a blazing red gown, belted out a very humorous “Santa Baby”, with Mr. Waller dressed as Santa and providing the lap for Staci’s visit to discuss her list. Mr. Waller did a solo number, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, which was very appropriate because he is truly home for Christmas this year, having recently relocated in New York to launch his professional career. He came back just to do this show. Josh has a wonderful voice and is a talent actor as well so don’t be surprised his see his name as a performer in a program of one of the FCCJ Broadway musicals that comes to town in the future. Ms. Cobb, worked and studied in New York for eight years and came back home to not only do musical theatre but to expand her talents as a Marketing Director for Theatre Jacksonville and to direct plays in local theatres. The two vocalists, joined forces in a delightful duet, of one of my favorite holiday songs, “Baby, its Cold Outside.”
The program had a little of something for everyone. It opened with the traditional “O Come All Ye Faithful” featuring the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus, that were seated up top behind the orchestra and facing the audience. The ladies wore a mix of red and green very colorful clothing which certainly went well with the Christmas trees and lights that festooned the hall.
Several dancers from the First Coast Nutcracker performed a selection from that show on a small stage in front in front of the musicians. In the 2nd half of program, the Jacksonville Children’s Chorus under the direction of Darren Dailey did several selections including portions of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Actually children’s chorus may be a misnomer since the 40 members are mostly teenagers, and mostly females. (I only saw four males in the group! I guess boys are more interested in sports). The chorus was excellent, and the future looks bright for musical theatre, talent wise.
The musical selection that surprised me most was suite from the movie “The Polar Express.” I had seen the movie but did not appreciate how beautiful the music was, and will have to check it out again since it is back in the theatres for the holidays.
The splendid orchestra was guest conducted by Japanese native Morihiko Nakahara, who finished up a contract as an associate conductor last season with the Jacksonville Symphony and will be going back to the Spokane Washington Symphony for his sixth season as resident conductor. Mr. Nakahara was very personable, told some humorous stories and was obviously a symphony favorite for his past work here.
My visit to the Holiday Pops was an uplifting, inspiring evening of music and certainly put me in a Christmas mood. The Jacksonville Symphony has a number of interesting events planned in 2009, and you can go to for a complete listing. Two programs that caught my eye are Puccini’s exotic and dramatic opera Turandot on Saturday February 7 2009 and Ben Vereen sings SAMMY! (Sammy Davis) on March l3 and 14. Hope to see you there.