By Victoria L. Dammer
Christmas is a magical time of year, and audiences at the Mayo Performance Art Center (MPAC) in Morristown, NJ, gathered to hear the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis for two magnificent performances on December 3rd.
Most of the traditional music you know from the holiday season, the tunes you can hum in your head, are played during the two-hour concert. Not only was the music spectacular, but the images on the interactive screen behind the group were a pleasure to the eye, and so were the special effects.
Chip Davis, the founder of Mannheim Steamroller, modernized the traditional Christmas music by blending it with rock and new age, bringing a beat that all enjoyed. One can best describe the music style by knowing the definition of a Mannheim steamroller, an 18th-century technique known as the crescendo that escalates the volume. Using drums, harpsichords and keyboards, bass, stringed instruments, percussion, and recorders all added to the excitement of the two-hour concert.
The ever-so-popular show celebrating over 40 years of entertaining audiences has two separate performing casts. Drummer Tom Sharpe introduced the Red Tour ensemble playing at MPAC, who opened with Joy to the World. Mannheim’s upbeat version of Greensleeves, featuring on-screen Elyse Davis on vocals, was followed by Good King Wenceslas, in which drummer Tom Sharpe appeared to be having the most fun, throwing his drumsticks up in the air in moments of excitement.
A piano solo started O’ Little Town of Bethlehem, and the musicians introduced cymbals, followed by bells and a violin solo, adding chimes and the harpsichord as each stanza progressed. It was soul-stirring, and the audience responded with loud applause.
As fog engulfed the stage, with visions of dolphins and whales, birds and waves breaking on the beach, heavy drums opened the breathtaking version of Come Home to the Sea, a tribute to the powerfulness of nature. This song elicited emotions all around the theater, and we saw concertgoers wiping tears from their eyes; it was exceptional. After intermission and keeping with Davis’s conservational theme from Yellowstone The Music of Nature, the band played Morning, with stirring aerial pictures of the park on display. In 1991, the song was nominated for a Grammy and Davis has donated more than $750,000 to preserve our nation’s first National Park.
The engaging sound of bongos played during Deck the Halls. We Three Kings featured the alluring sound of a recorder, and snow swirled throughout the theater as the last songs played. Carol of the Bells had a thunderous drum roll, and the encore performance of Silent Night rang through the air with the sound of sleigh bells and an overall feeling of peace.
Davis appeared on screen and told how music execs told him, “Don’t do a Christmas album; it will ruin your career,” but the standing ovation proved they were wrong.
The running time is approximately 2 hours with intermission.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis featuring concertmaster and violin by Mark Agnor; drums by Tom Sharpe; harpsichord and keyboards by Anna Lackaff; keyboards by David Plank; bass and stringed instruments by Christopher Forte; percussion and recorders by Reed Flygt. With tour manager Chelsea Langord; production assistant Kristin Ginther; production manager Pete Franks; stage manager Will Townsend; merchandise manager Nicole Hetlyn; video technician Christian Behm; lighting director Adam Zastro; lighting technician Ben Shepherd; FOH audio Timothy Zick; audio technician Micah Stryker; band bus driver Jimmy Orcutt; and crew bus driver Newt Norris.
The Mayo Performing Art Center, 100 South Street, Morristown, NJ 07960.
Tickets to events are available at The Official Ticketing Site of Mayo Performing Arts Center | Mayo Performing Arts Center (mayoarts.org)