DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – Whatever picture the phrase “Christmas show” may create in minds, it’s a landscape for this year’s edition of “Christmas with the Knights on Broadway” at St. Norbert College.
That has little to do with the shift to the larger Walter Theatre in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts on campus.
It has largely to do with expanding selections to wider meanings of Christmas – along the lines of peace, hope and love, to quote one lyric.
It also has something to do with presentation – how almost of the 23 songs in the show have a featured singer who is joined by others, and in many cases that means everybody.
It also has something to do with movement – how motion and/or dance often blends with song.
The presentation is somewhat stifled because the singers wear masks due to COVID-19 considerations. Wireless headsets boost their sound, but what is lost is the facial expressiveness that one can see them putting into the meanings of what they sing.
The expanded concept – Christmas with more meanings – includes spoken statements on living in this world in this time in between some songs.
What is spoken is along the lines of the first song and the show’s title, “Someday at Christmas…” by Stevie Wonder. Being expressed after the … include: “there will be no wars”… “we’ll see a land with no hungry children, no empty hand”… “man will not fail/Hate will be gone and love will prevail.”
Meantime, traditional songs certainly are present in such selections as “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
And there is the reverence of “Away in a Manger,” “Light of the World” and “What Child is This.”
The presentation is a team effort – director Kent Paulsen and his creative colleagues along with the cast of 14 students who work as a team – including adjusting on Friday night with two of their group out with illness. A student may start into a song, but she or he is soon joined by what amounts to be a lustrous backup chorus. There’s a lot of shared support among the students – all for one, one for all – which is kind of/sort of in keeping with the theme of the show.
This and that:
+ Dress is important in Knights on Broadway shows – in keeping with the quality of the singing. For this production, it’s black suits with ties for the men and knee-length dresses (dark green with an intricate pattern) that flow with movement and matching flesh-colored shoes.
+ There is only one true solo in the production. Senior Annie Yamamoto delivers “All Those Christmas Clichés” with personalized lyrics at the start and a performance style in which she sells the song. The story in the song is she has spent Christmas in Chicago, Green Bay, Florida and Japan, and she looks forward to all the corny clichés that mean home.
+ Twice the group takes on the trickiness of songs by Pentatonix. That means employing the rhythms of body percussion – finger snaps, thigh slaps, hand claps, body pats and more – in unison or in parts while singing quick lines.
+ Much is choreographed. Along with arrivals and departures, movement is woven within songs.
There is one true showbiz number. “This Year for Christmas” finds Seth Mayrer as an upbeat character enjoying himself in jolly dance moves as he is joined by the equally happy Emma Hutter, Daphne Johnson and Annie Yamamoto in some splashy va va voom.
+ Music styles range widely, from thoughtful solemnity to the joyous spirit of spirituals. Kent Paulsen fits songs to individual student’s strengths. Meantime, he’s at the piano at the back of the stage, laying the foundation in a multitude of ways on the keyboard to make his students look and sound more than good.
+ Each of the Knights on Broadway Christmas shows is different than the last as the student lineups change. This one is differently different as it seems to try to cope with the stresses of life with COVID-19. In a sense, what it says overall is reassuring. It’s a comforting landscape, with entertainment woven in.
Note: Masks are required of audience members due to campus COVID-19 protocol
Running time: One hour, 52 minutes
Remaining performances (live and livestreamed): 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 18 in Walter Theatre of Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts on campus. Info: snc.edu/tickets. Additionally, 7 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Ashwaubenon Performing Arts Center, 2391 S. Ridge Road. Info: ashwaubenonpac.org.
Creative: Director/accompanist – Kent Paulsen; assistant director/costumer – Linda Feldmann; technical director/light designer – Brittney Fritz; audio engineer – Alex Sudbrink; administrative assistant – Josh Fields
Knights on Broadway:
Logan Enger (Little Chute)
Sarah Gregory (Green Bay)
Marki Hietpas (Combined Locks)
Emma Hutter (Fond du Lac)
Megan Jasen (West Bend)
Daphne Johnson (Green Bay)
Briah Larson (Green Bay)
Evan Larson (Green Bay)
Trent Larson (Greenville)
Anton Maslowski (Madison)
Seth Mayrer (Mosinee)
Daniel Scaife (Madison)
Sam Skiff (Fond du Lac)
Annie Yamamoto (Hoffman Estates, Ill.)
+ “Someday at Christmas” (originally performed by Stevie Wonder) – Individually building to all
+ “No Room at the Inn” (originally performed by Anne Murray) – Marki Hietpas
+ “Away in a Manger” (originally performed by Pentatonix) – All
+ “White Christmas” (originally performed by Bing Crosby) – Anton Maslowski
+ “Once Upon a December” from “Anastasia” – Megan Jasen
+ “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (originally performed by Michael Bublé) – Samuel Skiff
+ “Merry Christmas Darling” (originally performed by The Carpenters) – Daphne Johnson
+ “When Love Was Born” – Evan Larson
+ “You’ve Got a Friend” (originally performed by Carole King) – Daphne Johnson and Annie Yamamoto
+ “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” – Individually building to all
+ “O Holy, Silent Night, Hallellujah!” – Annie Yamamoto
+ “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (originally performed by Pentatonix) – Anton Maslowski
+ “What Child is This”/“Child of the Poor” – Emma Hutter and Samuel Skiff
+ “(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag” – Daniel Scaife
+ “This Year for Christmas” – Seth Mayrer
+ “All Those Christmas Clichés” – Annie Yamamoto
+ “Light of the World” (originally performed by Lauren Daigle) – Emma Hutter
+ “Hope Has Come” – Marki Hietpas and Daniel Scaife
+ “In My Dream” from “Anastasia” – Briah Larson
+ “Let There Be Peace” (originally performed by Carrie Underwood) – Sarah Gregory
+ “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from “Meet Me in St. Louis” – All
+ “Joy, Halleluhah, Joy, Joyful Medley” – Sarah Gregory, Daniel Scaife and all
THE VENUE: The 724-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.
THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.