Published On: Sat, Dec 19th, 2020

Virtual holiday concert by Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville a warm holiday hug

By John Millman Dwyer

When you go to any musical at Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville, you will hear some of the best voices in the Delaware Valley. They are lucky to be home to many artists, and every year many of those fine singers do a special holiday concert. It is traditionally done with a full 19-piece swing band before a live audience. But due to covid, this year it has gone virtual.

Along with clips of some of the best moments from previous holiday shows are new segments filmed at the homes of the performers. Their beautiful voices and “song picks” are inspiring, often just “hitting the right note” on how we are all feeling in this time of separation and loss. They exude with the utmost sincerity their appreciation of what remains. We are blessed with great love and a greater appreciation of each other, specifically family, friends and neighbors.

The very talented Kasey Ivan Portenier renders a tender and heartfelt rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” choosing the original version containing “Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow, But’ til then…we have to muddle through somehow.” The lyrics were revised by Sinatra to a more upbeat last verse of “Hang a shining star upon the highest bow.” Point being, it hits home. Many of us can’t be together and we are muddling through. Beautiful job, sung next to a Christmas tree with the warmest holiday glow.

Likewise, Lauren Bader beautifully sang “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” which like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was written during WWII in 1943. This song was specifically written for the soldiers overseas, unlike the other which was written for a movie (“Meet Me in St. Louis”), but both pulled on the heartstrings of a country at war. They seem so right as we are at war with a disease and are making warlike sacrifices these days with bunkering down and quarantine, masks and social distancing. Another great job and very poignant.

Jen Gursky sings a relatively new Christmas song that also similarly pulls at the heart called “A Merry Christmas with Love” by Sandi Patty. This is a song that really is one of found joy, when a mother is alone with no reason to trim the tree but the gift of song brings back joy, as she hears carolers singing outside. On a parallel track, that joy is what is experienced by all of us attending this uplifting concert.

Though the aforementioned songs seem covid timely and pull heart strings, the evening is really about the joy of holiday laughter, love and giving and the 75-minute concert has traditional, inspirational and some new songs that are toe-tapping, jazzy and fun. The songs from previous years are done with a 19-person swing band and are culled from their best moments. The show comprises 22 songs altogether but, of those 22, below are the six new performances of 2020 not yet mentioned.

Traditional: Jenny Parilla Alvino accompanies herself on piano singing “A Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”). Her crystal clear, pitch-perfect voice and exuberant, loving delivery make you utterly forget Johnny Matthis and want to hear more.

Also, in the traditional vein, the inimitable, effervescent Katie Rochon has given us the best background and special effects, as she sings outside with the snow falling, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” The performance is a guaranteed smile that will definitely keep you warm.

Inspirational: Jared Wlliams accompanies himself on piano as well in a soaring “Oh Holy Night.” A gorgeous hymn that he scores, building with his second verse where he modulates his voice. It is a wonderful, breathtaking version of the song.

Toe tapping, jazzy and fun: Words that could describe Jill Gibilisco, as much as they do the song ”Merry Christmas All” from the album “Salsoul Orchestra Christmas Jollies,” which Ms. Gibilisco attests to as one of the best albums ever and certainly a favorite of her mother’s, who always played it for the holidays. Hearing her stories surrounding the song fills you with the holiday spirit, along with lyrics such as “We’re all just like children, come that special day, giving gifts just like children, ain’t that the Christmas way?”

Finally, there are the two hosts of the evening, artistic directors Louis Palena and Jordan Brennan. The mega-talented, never-stopping super couple each sang individually. Palena took us on a “Sleigh Ride,” while Brennan assured us “There is No Place Like Home for the Holidays.”

With all the wonderful theater they continually produce and direct, we should all want to take a sleigh ride anytime to Music Mountain. I hope you come home for the holidays and see this show and support this theater. As the show is virtual, it is available online anytime from now until Jan. 1, 2021, and tickets are available online.

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