Christmas came early to Walt Disney Concert Hall. It came Saturday morning, and once again later the same afternoon, with jingle bells, Santa hats, and big and small voices all around.
It was the LA Phil's annual Holiday Sing-Along featuring conductor John Sutton, the Angeles Chorale, and your friends and neighbors. Between the poinsettias, red and snowflake-patterned lights and a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, there was no mistaking this was a holiday celebration.
This delightful tradition is not a show for people who like to sit back and let someone else do the driving. That's probably for the best since judging by the audience for the 11:30 a.m. performance, a goodly portion had yet to obtain their driver's licenses -- and some of them came in car seats.
Basically, this is the same family crowd you might see on the weekends at the zoo, except much better dressed and maybe a bit jollier. At certain points, the quality of the audience singing might have rivaled certain zoo sections, but that is the enormous fun of this wonderful program of holiday favorites.
There was plenty to sing and most everyone knew the words (there was a lyric sheet in case they didn't.) "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer." "Feliz Navidad." "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
During "Jingle Bells," the audience was encouraged to rattle whatever they had -- for most that meant their car keys, but for the front-row folks they were asked to shake their jewelry. Although the show was mostly Christmas tunes, the audience did join in a rousing rendition of "The Dreidel Song."
With its changing song pace and moods, this is not an easy show to keep smoothly moving, but it must be said that host David Prather did a masterful job. His ready, quick wit and playful, energetic manner are perfectly suited for the holiday occasion -- and also ideal for keeping a young audience prone to restlessness focused and entertained.
Prather, in his ninth season in the role, is warm-hearted, but not cloying. Funny, but not mean. In the show's opening moments, he asked the audience if everyone was ready for Christmas. When it seemed that some might not yet be overtaken by the holiday spirit, he quipped that perhaps they work for Sony Pictures.
Later, wading into the audience to find youthful volunteers for an upcoming stage sketch, he screened the children by kindly asking them what they wanted for Christmas. One said "A bike." Another said "World peace."
"Okay, you're working it pretty hard," he joked and sent the overjoyed girl onto the stage moments later. (It also has to be said the "King John" story for which seven youngsters from the audience were brought onstage was the only weak note of the entire 90-minute program. The kids were great, the story didn't work.)
The show also boasted a special appearance by Drew Carey, the comedian most known as the host of "The Price is Right." But the audience also learned a thing or two about Drew -- he's from Cleveland, he can sing well, and he had his own bobble-head night at a Cleveland Indians game.
The audience also discovered that Drew didn't study the lyrics of his opening number, "It's a Marshmallow World," long enough. At first, it seemed like a planned joke, but then it became clear the comedian had truly forgotten the words -- a problem he soon remedied as he consulted a song sheet.
By the time he got to "It's a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts," he was back at the top of his game. (Carey was pelted by marshmallows after the song -- that was a planned joke, but because he'd lost track of the words, it was even funnier.)
Without a doubt, the show's highlight (unless you were a fan of Santa, who made an appearance onstage toward the end) was "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Prather divided the audience into sections and each one was given a day to stand up on and sing. (Everyone stood and belted out what happened on the fifth day of Christmas.)