HMC keeps the “brrs” at bay

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli |

Baby, It's Cold OutsideDespite the frigid air, Heartland Men’s Chorus fans were warmly welcomed with carols in the lobby courtesy of HMC’s vocal subset the HeartAches. A highly rhythmic rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” full of unexpected harmonies opened the concert on stage, followed by the “Shades of Christmas” medley starting with “White Christmas” and “Blue Christmas.” The HeartAches made its first appearance on stage for the third of this set, “Lavender Christmas,” a cheeky take on being gay during the holidays, and the final chorus of the medley was a brilliant juxtaposition of all three tunes.

Continuing the colorful Christmas theme was “Black Christmas” featuring a septet of the African-American members of the chorus engaging in good-natured observational banter about Hollywood and the music industry’s lily-whiteness when it comes to holiday classics. The song’s droll lyrics had the audience in stitches and it was a definite highlight of the program.

The next few songs shifted gears from boisterous to subdued, starting with an a cappella “Ave Maria,” during which the chorus displayed a balanced sound with expert dynamics. The polyphony in this one was welcome and built to a robust conclusion. The dark, nostalgic “The Chanukah Song (We Are Lights)” and “Our Stockings,” lovingly dedicated to HMC’s Ad Astra members (choir members who have passed away), were the requisite heartrending works of the evening.

Closing out the first half was the titular piece, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with the chorus splitting down the middle to play the song’s two characters, and “Tropical Holiday Jingle Bells,” complete with choreography and a Hawaiian shirt-laden dance team. This version of “Jingle Bells” showed off additional percussion techniques from drummer Ray DiMarchi (moose call, vibra-slap) and was a workout for pianist Lamar Sims, too. Frequent soloist from the chorus Kelly Marzett, a natural in the spotlight, dressed in drag a la Carmen Miranda for an entertaining feature.

After kicking off the second half with “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” from the Broadway musical Elf, Santa Claus ruled the rest of the concert, from the sea of red suits and white beards in the choir to the selection of repertoire. The high-energy “A Song of Santa” medley offered bits of pop hits like “Little Saint Nick,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Santa Baby.”

“Yes, Virginia (There is a Santa Claus)” was carried by a substantial solo part sung by Daniel Alford, with temperate vibrato, plenty of emotion, and excellent intonation and projection. Alford wasn’t the only soloist displaying these qualities through the evening, as several HMC members enjoyed the spotlight briefly, all of whom are deserving of praise for their confidence and style, but too numerous to list here.

Baby, It's Cold OutsideThe HeartAches returned during the second half with “Boogie Woogie Santa,” a rock n’ roll tune on which the octet blended well and delighted in some light comedic acting. Kelly Marzett also returned in character for the second half, this time as a frustrated and frisky Mrs. Claus for the jazzy “Santa, Won’t You Please Come Back.” Despite a brief lyrical brain freeze (ahem) during one of the verses, Marzett recovered with humor and poise. “The 12 Rockin’ Gays of Christmas” gave guitarist Rick Bacus a chance to show off and the dance team rocked out choreographed life-sized puppetry downstage, but some of the choir’s lyrics were lost in the din.

While definitely a fun and happy holiday celebration, Baby, It’s Cold Outside was also bittersweet in that it marked artistic director and conductor Joe Nadeau’s final concert weekend with HMC, as he has accepted the post of artistic director with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Before the concert’s finale, surprise guest and friend of the chorus Marilyn Maye appeared and said a few words about Nadeau’s time with the group, and the legacy he created here. Heartfelt yet full of her signature sharp wit, Maye presented her own lyrical spin on “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” in tribute to Nadeau, prompting a well-deserved standing ovation for HMC’s departing artistic director of 15 years.

Maye joined the choir for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to end the concert, followed by two encores: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which Nadeau confessed he had been wanting to program for a long time, and the poignant “Never Ever” from Robert T. Seeley’s song cycleNakedMan.

Kudos must be paid to HMC’s stellar artistic team for its work on Baby, It’s Cold Outside. The lighting and scenic design, costuming, and choreography enhance every HMC concert from small touches such as individual props for each chorus member to large-scale set pieces flanking the ensemble, and this production was no exception.

Heartland Men’s Chorus
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
December 6–8 (Reviewed Friday, December 6, 2013)
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO