Music Review: A Studio Tenn Christmas 2016

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Your family can celebrate the sounds of the season at this delightful night of holiday tunes.

Studio Tenn presents:
A Studio Tenn Christmas 2016 (Dec. 8 – 18; All ages)
Jamison Theater at The Factory
230 Franklin Road, Franklin
615-541-8200 • studiotenn.com
Showtimes: Thu – Sat 7 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $35 – $90

Studio Tenn makes merry with adding it’s own bright spot to the holiday season with A Studio Christmas 2016. This lovely 90-minute holiday concert (with a 15-minute intermission) is housed on a spectacular set created by Artistic Director/Designer Matt Logan (who also performs in the show). His design succinctly fits with the company’s aim to present “a modern take on the vintage holiday special” as the living room atmosphere — complete with a dazzling starry night backdrop — blends a contemporary feel with an awesome retro ’60s vibe. It’s exquisite and inviting.

The 10-member cast includes newcomer Bradley D. Gale along with Studio Tenn vets Laura Matula (also the show’s music supervisor/vocal arranger), Emily Tello Speck, Patrick Thomas, Erin Parker, Piper Jones, Melodie Madden Adams and Libby Black along with the company’s leaders, Logan and Jake Speck (managing director/executive producer).

Backed by a live band led by music director Ryan Connors, the cast ticks through 30 songs of the season that include standard favorites like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (full cast), “White Christmas Movie Medley” (full cast), “The Christmas Song” (J. Speck) and “Jingle Bells” (full cast). There’s a handful of fun, kid-favorite tunes, too, like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (Black), “Here Comes Santa Claus” (E. Speck), “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (J. Speck) and Logan’s festive rendition of “Frosty the Snowman” at the end of Act. I.

From solo numbers to powerful, tight harmonies, the cast delivers lots of memorable moments, both sentimental and jovial, from Matula’s Judy Garland-esque “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Logan’s Elvis-inspired performance of “Blue Christmas” to Parker’s “Cool Yule.” Adams, Matula and Parker deliver angelic harmonies on one of the night’s religious numbers, “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

The standout vocalist of the night is Piper Jones. Her incredible range packs a punch, and this young lady sings with a lot of soul on numbers like “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Darling” (with Gale), “I Pray On Christmas” and “O Christmas Tree.” Jones is the kind of performer who emotionally connects to the words she’s singing, delivering an authentic, believable performance versus merely singing a song. I know I’m not alone in hoping to see her on stage a lot more in the near future.

My only criticism of the night is the end of the show. Although the last few songs are heartfelt and full of sentiment, ending the production with “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” feels misplaced as it leaves the audience on a melancholy note. Granted, the cast does a fine job performing the wartime number, but it would’ve been nice to go out on a festive high note (a rousing rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” perhaps?).  Adding to the awkwardness at the end is holding the audience hostage after the curtain call as Logan and Speck remain on stage to make a donation pitch. Regardless of how good the cause may be, this is an unfortunate, off-putting trend happening in some theaters, including ones in New York. There are better ways to message the non-profit need to audience members who’ve already spent a good clip of money to experience the show.

Rest assured, though, that your family is definitely in for a magnificent night of music that celebrates the season!

Chad Young is the managing editor and arts/entertainment editor for this publication.

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