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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘A Not So Silent Night’ distinctive in Ashwaubenon PAC

Critic At Large

John Kelley & The Fusion Xpress Orchestra-FXO

Featured performers in “A Not So Silent Night” in Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center Dec. 19, 2019. (Warren Gerds)

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WFRV)

The event had a long title, but there was even more to the makings of John Kelley & The Fusion Xpress Orchestra-FXO: “A Not So Silent Night.”

The “more” came out at the start of the second half of the concert Thursday night in Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center as part of the center’s local series.

The first half was a fusion of seasonal and music theater music featuring John Kelley’s electric violin, jazzy band and four singers.

With no one else on stage, John Kelley had a sit-down with the audience, speaking about a stroke he suffered five years ago. He said it affected his speech, memory and balance. He said he is 85 to 90 percent back and spoke of not having what used to be perfect. He spoke of changes, of learning, of gaining a feeling of “Let’s all be patient with each other.”

One other thing he said stuck out that applied to the night: “When I program these programs, I try to be inspirational.”

That was certainly the case Thursday, including the very next song, “This is Me,” which starts with

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.

The song featured the potent voice of April Strom-Johnson leading the way for the band, other vocalists and a choir of 12.

The night’s climax was “Silent Night” with John Kelley leaving his spot among the band to savor the moment of the aura of leading this production that brought the audience to sing strongly, alone.

All five of the singers had their solo moments, notably Kaara McHugh with classical color in “O Come Let Us Adore Him” and Chase Grabowski with personality.

Guitarist Jim Bayard’s arrangement of “My Favorite Things” put extra gusto into the song with spicy solo moments for instruments and voice.

The tempo in just about all other vocals was a pace of its own. “Inspirational” seemed to equate to “slow.”

In ways, the concert was one of a kind – an electric violinist with flashy flourishes leading a band leading music for five trained singers and sometimes a 12-voice choir. The intent: Celebrate the season, which it did in those many one-of-a-kind ways.

***

Featured

John Kelley, electric violin

Jim Bayard, guitar

Emily Sculliuffo, keyboards

Tony Pesavento, bass;

John Barnard, drums

Isabella Kelley, violin

Tim Olejniczak, vocals

Ben Olejniczak, vocals

Kaara McHugh, vocals

April Strom-Johnson, vocals

Chase Grabowski, vocals

A choir of 12 adult singers

All performers in “A Not So Silent Night” in Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center Dec. 19, 2019. (Warren Gerds)

Musical selections (orchestra playing in all)

Part I

Instrumental Christmas medley – John Kelly and orchestra

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – including all vocalists

“Bring Him Home” – featuring Chase Grabowski, Ben Olejniczak, Tim Olejniczak

Instrumental Christmas medley – John Kelly and orchestra

“The Phantom of the Opera” – featuring Kaara McHugh, Tim Olejniczak

“My Favorite Things” – featuring Kaara McHugh

“Thankful” – featuring Tim Olejniczak

“Hallelujah” – including all vocalists

“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” – featuring Chase Grabowski

“The Christmas Song” – featuring Ben Olejniczak, Tim Olejniczak

“New Prayer” – featuring April Strom-Johnson, Tim Olejniczak

“O Holy Night” – featuring Chase Grabowski, Ben Olejniczak, Tim Olejniczak; John Kelley solo

Part II

“This is Me” – featuring April Strom-Johnson, with choir and other vocalists

“Mary Did You Know?” – featuring Ben Olejniczak

“You Raise Me Up” – featuring all vocalists and choir

“All I Want for Christmas is You” – featuring Chase Grabowski

“O Come Let Us Adore Him” – featuring Kaara McHugh

“Silent Night” – featuring all vocalists and choir

“Joyful, Joyful” – featuring April Strom-Johnson, with choir and other vocalists

***

VENUE: Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center is located in the northwest sector of the Ashwaubenon High School campus at the corner of Willard Drive and South Ridge Road. The look of the hall is that of a community/school district making a statement: The performing arts count. The facility’s design is by Bray Associates Architects, Inc. of Milwaukee and Sheboygan. The theater includes a theatrical slope. The basic floor is gray with patterned grays in the carpeting. The 700 seats have tan plastic backs, muted green fabric seat cushions and oak arms. Key elements are wood panels on walls and curved acoustical clouds in the ceiling for sound purposes. The basic stage is 26 feet high and 49 feet wide, with a section that bows out almost 18 feet being a covered (or uncovered) orchestra pit. The stage curtain is different from the standard rich red; it is rich green. The lobby – lighted by a series of white, circular fixtures, curves around the rear entrances of the theater. The space includes chest-high tables and ticketing, concession and coatroom areas. The facility was completed in 2016.

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