Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Crooner Russ Lorenson presented his tenth annual Christmas Show this year at Feinstein's in the Hotel Nikko. This has become a San Francisco holiday tradition with Russ presenting his annual show full of good cheer.
Russ Lorenson is a laid-back classy entertainer who has flawless vocal phasing. His voice is suggestive of the great crooners like Tony Bennett and Chet Baker but he is his own man. He has lithe vocal cords when singing both swinging and romantic songs. His delivery is natural and genuine. This time Russ was backed by the Kelly Park Big Band of sixteen pieces. Kelly led playing the piano. They captivated the audience with their cool arrangements.
Russ opened with a swinging arrangement of Sammy Fain and Paul Alter'a "If I Hear Another Song About Christmas" and continued with songs I had never heard before about the yuletide season, like Paul Rolnick and Henry Cory'a "It'll Be Christmas Before You Know It" and John Pizzarelli and Ray Kennedy's "Let's Share Christmas." He effortlessly sang Milton DeLugg and Bob Hilliard's "Shake Hands with Santa Claus" and Jonny Blu and Bob Malone's "Holiday for Two." Russ continued by smoothly singing Steve Lawrence and Berl Rotfeld's "Let Me Be the First to Wish You Merry Christmas" and continued with Bob Russell's "Warm in December" and John Pizzarelli's "Santa Claus Is Near." He had pitch perfect resonance singing local composer Candace Forest and Nancy Schimmel's "Mrs. Claus" and rocked singing "Jingles, the Christmas Cat," music and lyrics by Ray Elbert Parker. Sax player Tony Malfatti was highlighted with a pulsating jazz solo during this song.
Russ got into a soulful mood singing Sammy Cahn and David Jack Holt's "The Christmas Blues" and ended the show by naturally singing E.E. Lawrence's "That's What I Want for Christmas" , David Foster, Carole Bayer and Richard Page's "Thankful" and Seger Ellis and Glen Moore's "You're All I Want for Christmas." For an encore he brightly sang Tony Romano's "Christmas in San Francisco" with additional lyrics by Russ.
This one night only gig took place on December 11th, 2015. For a complete rundown of coming attractions at Feinstein's in the Hotel Nikko please go to www.hotelnikkosf.com/feinsteins.aspx.
San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus held its 25th annual Christmas concert under the direction of Dr. Timothy Seelig on December 12 at the Nourse Theatre. In HoliGays Are Here they presented an impressive program of Christmas carols, the Dancing Gays, and popular yuletide songs.
The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus is the world's first openly gay chorus, founded in 1978. It is the group often credited with creating the LGBT choral movement. Today the membership is over 300 voices.
The group opened with a Christmas medley which consisted of holiday tunes such as "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame and "Jingle Bells." The chorus segued into the traditional English carol "Wassail" followed by the traditional Christmas carol "The First Noel."
A group of the SFGMC members dressed in various drag costumes came out on stage to present a series of humorous Bible stories based on such old television series as "Gilligan's Island" and "All in the Family." The fellows then turned thoughtful to present the world premiere of "Loving, Tender, Present," with music by Laura Karpman and spoken text by Rebecca Walker. It told the story of a male child growing up with loving parents; the child finally arrives at adulthood to marry the man that he loves. It was a lovely tale.
"Dancing Gays Part 1: I Want! Joy!" was an entertaining take-off on elves singing "I Want to be a Rockette." The second part was the sidesplitting dance to "Swan Lake" with the dancers in white flowing skirts. The chorus turned serious once more to sing Owen Goldsmith's "Who is She That Travels" and then "Ave Maria" beautifully sung by Rylan Carpena with the chorus backing up the singer. The first act ended with the "Dancing Gays Part III: Bows" which featured the sensational group of dancers dressed like the characters at the end of the A Chorus Line.
The second act opened with members of the SFGMC, The Lollipop Guild, SWAG, and Vocal Minority performing "Christmas Really Matters to Me." It was followed by the whole chorus brightly singing David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger's "Text Me Merry Christmas" followed by Andrew Lippa's "Almost Christmas" from A Little Princess. The group turned comic again with the guys dressed in "grandma outfits" and the chorus singing "Recycle the Fruitcake" from John Jacobson and Mac Huff's Santa Goes Green. At the end of this scene the men brought out huge photos of Liberace, Pee Wee Herman, and Donald Trump. Needless to say, the full house went wild with applause.
The rest of the program was serious with music both modern and traditional, including Lawrence Rush and Ernie Lijoi's "Merry Christmas, I Win," Ernie Lijoi's "Merry Everything," and a combination of Bach's "Hallelujah" with "Jingle Bells." The group ended with the lovely "Now the Work of Christmas Begins" by Steve Huffines and Howard Thurman and the beautiful "Silent Night." For encores the group did a trio of songs: Kim Gannon, Walter Kent and Buck Ram's "I'll be Home for Christmas," Meghan Trainor's "I'll be Home," and "Swingin' with Santa" arranged by Mac Huff and Paul Saccone.
HoliGays Are Here was a great way to kick off the holiday season for all. The SFGMC members will also be appearing at the Castro Theatre on December 24 at 5:00, 7:00 and 9:00 PM with their Home for the Holidays show. Coming up later will be Tales of Our City: Our Lives, Our Heroes with featured guest Armistead Maupin, on April 14 and April 15 at Davies Symphony Hall. For more information visit www.sfgmc.org.