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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Holiday Pops’ returns gloriously in Green Bay

Critic At Large

Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College

Scene from “Silent Night” in “Holiday Pops.” (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – A Christmas concert on Green Bay’s grandest scale – “Holiday Pops” – returned Saturday afternoon with almost as much luster as when it left off before the interruption of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Masks for singers and some musicians (non-wind) accounted for the “almost.” Even so, the concert graced Cofrin Family Hall of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts with beauty.

Highlight: Artistry flows in a blend of orchestra, adult and youth voices and an enriched take on Johann Pachelbel’s silken “Canon” by Paul O’Neill, composer for Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Highlight: Hearing music of the electrified Trans-Siberian Orchestra played with impressive muscle by an “au-naturel” orchestra.  

Highlight: Handbells join the chorale’s singing and orchestra’s rhythmic playing in “I Saw Three Ships,” reminding all of how vivid the hall’s sound is.

Highlight: The building sound of singers, adult and youth, arriving on stage for the opening “O Come, All Ye Faithful” as the living, breathing orchestra sets the aura for gloriousness.

Highlight: Dancers express joy in motion creating a visual picture to what Leroy Anderson always told in music in “Sleigh Ride.”

Highlight: A living aural/visual mural that fills the stage area for “Silent Night,” complete with a representation of the Nativity with an infant in swaddling clothes.

The orchestra performed with gusto and/or finesse.

The singers were required to wear masks, taking their voices a notch down in effectiveness but not in appeal.

Artistic director/conductor Kent Paulsen packed the program with variety and personality, weaving in a bit of calypso and Trans-Siberian thrust along with sweet traditional popular songs and the core purpose of Christmas – reverence.

Weather put a scare into this year’s production with a burst of heavy snow in the morning. The prospect the show being a no-go for more than 250 performers and a big audience seemed to loom. The weather turned on a dime, and brilliant sun shone and brighten the day in more ways than one.

***

Creative

Dudley Birder Chorale of St. Norbert College, Kent Paulsen, artistic director; Elaine Moss, assistant director, piano accompanist; Josh Fields, administrative specialist

Holiday Pops Orchestra, Kent Paulsen, conductor

Birder Studio of Performing Arts, Alicia Birder, artistic director; Emily Sculliuffo, accompanist

Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization, Timothy Josephs, artistic director/choreographer; Emily Terrell Paulsen, costumer

***

Program

Part I

+ “O Come, All Ye Faithful” – Frederick Oakley, William Thomas Brooke, John Francis Wade and others, arranged by John Rutter///Featuring Birder Studio of Performing Arts

+ “Born on Christmas Day” (premiere performance) – Keith Andes, Peabo Bryson, Robbie Buchanan, arranged by Shawn Postell///Featuring Birder Studio of Performing Arts

+ “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” – Paul O’Neill, Robert Kinkel, arranged by Bob Phillips

+ “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – George Wyle, Edward Pola, arranged by Mark Hayes

+ “Polonaise” from “Christmas Eve Suite” – Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

+ “The Little Drummer Boy” – Harry Simeone, Katherine K. Davis, Henry Onorati, arranged by Harry Simeone

+ “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy” – traditional West Indian carol, arranged by Mack Wilberg

+ “Sleigh Ride” – Leroy Anderson///Featuring NEWDO (Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization)

+ “Hallelujah” from “The Messiah” – George Frideric Handel

Part II

+ “Christmas Canon” – Paul O’Neill, arranged by Andy Beck///Featuring Birder Studio of Performing Arts

+ “Wizards in Winter” – Paul O’Neill, Robert Kinkel, arranged by Bob Phillips

+ “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” – Clement Clark Moore, Ken Darby, arranged by Harry Simeone

+ “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” – J. Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie///Featuring an appearance by Santa Claus handing out candy to kiddies

+ “I Saw Three Ships” – traditional English carol, arranged by Mack Wilberg///Featuring a handbell choir of chorale members

+ “It’s Christmastime (A Medley for Orchestra)” – arranged by Calvin Custer

+ “The First Nowell” – traditional English carol, arranged by Mack Wilberg

+ “Les Patineurs Valse (The Skater’s Waltz)” – Émile Waldteufel///Featuring NEWDO (Northeastern Wisconsin Dance Organization)

+ “White Christmas” – Irving Berlin, arranged by Roy Ringwald

+ “Silent Night” – the Rev. Joseph Mohr, translated by Bishop John Freeman Young; music by Franz Gruber///Featuring Birder Studio of Performing Arts

+ “Merry Christmas/Merry Christmas” (from “Home Alone Suite) – Leslie Bricusse, John Williams///Featuring Birder Studio of Performing Arts

***

NEXT: “Choral Masterworks,” April 5, at Weidner Center.

Chihuli Chandelier in Grand Foyer of Weidner Center on a sunny afternoon, Dec. 11, 2021. (Warren Gerds)

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

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