Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Finding Hope’ show theme brings caring to season in De Pere

Critic At Large

St. Norbert College Knights on Broadway’s ‘Christmas with the Knights’

Program cover. (St. Norbert College)


The expected, the unexpected, surprises and a total Surprise.

That is this year’s edition of the Christmas show of the St. Norbert College Knights on Broadway show troupe.

Saturday afternoon’s performance in Dudley Birder Hall was sold out – not a surprise because interest has grown for “Christmas with the Knights.”

Under the leadership of Kent Paulsen, shows take on varying themes from year to year, include video tidbits and feature easy-to-follow introductions of songs and soloists. Kent Paulsen accompanies on piano, playing a whole freight car full of notes in each performance. The notes weigh practically nothing, but put together they are tons and tons of meaning for oh so many.

The expected in this show? Many of the songs that people know and like. Singers solo in bundles of them in two medleys – showcasing bright/colorful singing.

The unexpected? Some of the treatments of familiar titles. When Kent Paulsen marshals all 12 of his singers for one song, things really happen. One sample is “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which opens with an African chant rhythm, then blends traditional words with the rhythmic words and then fuses in rhythmic foot-stomps. Another is “Go Tell It on the Mountain” with Annie Yamamoto leading the spiritual before being joined by the entourage in a complex weaving of spiritual singing/rhythm and body language. Another is “Hallelujah/O Holy/Silent Night” with Alyssa Higley and Nick Surprise leading the ensemble into wholesale action.

One surprise is the group effort that goes into the unexpected. Another surprise is an inventive side trip the show takes. It starts with a news video of Patti LaBelle starting a song at the National Christmas Tree Lighting only to get lost because she has no background singers. So Kent Paulsen concocts The Knights on Broadway Background Singers School. His singers come out and only sing the fill behind such hits as “Sleigh Ride” and “White Christmas.” The bit is off-the-wall fun.

The total Surprise? Spaced all through the show are video clips of people on campus offering thoughts on what gives them hope. Answers go all over the place. Some students find hope in their friends. Activism, family, pets, kindness and “Jesus and my guitar” are other answers. Brian Bruess, the college’s president, finds hope in the “amazing students” and their development. Nick Surprise of Knights on Broadway says he finds hope in the fact that both his parents, after long struggles with cancer, today are free of an active presence. In real life, Nick Surprise is next to be featured. He stands at the front of the stage and sings, in Latin, “Ave Maria” in a voice that has deepened and widened in his development on campus. The song ends. A big smile rises from him. Nick Surprise leaves the stage, walks down steps to the front row and hugs his mother and father. This was an extremely powerful sequence in live performance… totally for the Surprise family.

A few more things about the show. The singers take ownership of the experience. They take tickets and help guide audience members to their seats; it’s the singers’ show, in their house, so to speak. A lot of pride – and practice – goes into “Knights on Broadway Christmas,” making the show extremely appealing.


Creative: Director – Kent Paulsen; assistant director and wardrobe – Linda Feldmann; lighting design – Brittney Roffers; audio engineer – Alex Sudbrink; arts management assistant – Josh Fields

Cast (from left in photo above): John Dicks, Emily Tomcek, Garret Fritz, Sarah Gregory, Trent Larson, Briah Larson, Nick Surprise, Marki Hietpas, Andrew Lococo, Annie Yamamoto, Maverick Berner, Alyssa Higley

Running time: Two hours, five minutes

Remaining performances: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14-15, 7 p.m. Dec. 17



Music selections


“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – Andy Williams recording; for cast introductions

Part I

“Hope Was Born This Night” – All

“Underneath the Tree” – Sarah Gregory

“My Grown Up Christmas List” Briah Larson

“We Wish You the Merriest” – Maverick Berner, Andrew Lococo, All

“Heaven Everywhere”/“Angels We Have Heard on High” – Emily Tomcek\

“What Child is This?” – Trent Larson, Briah Larson

“Last Christmas” – Marki Hietpas

“Go Tell It on the Mountain” – Annie Yamamoto, All

    Medley of Christmas Favorites, Part I

   “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” – Andrew Lococo

    “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Anne Yamamoto

    “Silver Bells” – Trent Larson

    “Count Your Blessings” – Alyssa Higley

    “The Christmas Song” – Nick Surprise

“Angels We Have Heard on High” – sequence of solos by Marki Hietpas, Annie Yamamoto, Briah Larson, Emily Tomcek, Sarah Gregory

“Hallelujah/O Holy/Silent Night” – Alyssa Higley, Nick Surprise, All

Part II

“O Come All Ye Faithful” – All

    Medley of Christmas Favorites, Part II

    “My Favorite Things” – Emily Tomcek

    “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – Maverick Berner

    “Do You Hear What I Hear?” – Briah Larson

   “White Christmas” – Marki Hietpas

    “Where Are You Christmas?” – Sarah Gregory

“Ave Maria” – Nick Surprise

“River” – Annie Yamamoto

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – All

“Better Days” – Garret Fritz

“Christmas Will You Stay?” – Alyssa Higley

“What Ever Happened to Christmas?” – John Dicks

    [insert name] The Knights on Broadway (background singers)

    Background vocals for such selections as “Happy Holiday,” “Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Christmas”

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” – All

“Finding Hope & Joy Medley,” including such selections as “Hallelujah,” “Joy to the World,” “Joyful, Joyful” – All


VENUE: Dudley Birder Hall at St. Norbert College is located in the former St. Boniface Church at the corner of Fourth and Grant streets in De Pere. It’s a multi-purpose space. For “Christmas with the Knights on Broadway,” seating is set up for approximately 250 persons. The walls and towering arches of the former church are painted cream white. Above are acoustical clouds. The raised stage is spacious and airy. Dudley Birder Hall was dedicated in January 2013. The St. Boniface building dates to the late 1800s and is a landmark for its classical exterior and clock tower.

THE PERSON: Known for an outgoing personality, enthusiasm and attention to detail, Dudley Birder started on the St. Norbert faculty in 1958 and produced musicals for the college and community into 2017 and concerts into 2018. He officially retires June 1, 2018. After Birder retired from teaching, he continued as conductor of the Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College and artistic director of Music Theatre of St. Norbert College. He founded Music Theatre in 1962.

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