“Whirling Winter Wonderlands” UCO’S Wondrous Variety Tribute to Christmas
Merry Christmas! It is a whirling wonderland outside; we even had a little snow the other day! And, with Oklahoma wind, things are certainly whirling! Especially at the University of Central Oklahoma which is presenting “Whirling Winter Wonderlands” through December 15. The program takes place in the Jazz Lab, off the UCO main campus. “Whirling Winter Wonderlands” is an exciting variety show filled with old favorites we remember with joy.
Reminiscent of the heyday of television Christmas Specials some decades ago, “Whirling Winter Wonderlands” begins with a family preparing for Christmas and the arrival of Santa. They also tour the world learning of Christmas joy in families from other countries and cultures. The show is full of “Merry Christmas” but includes celebrations of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve.
“Whirling Winter Wonderlands” is the brainchild of Steven Smeltzer, Rachel Brown and Sean Steele, who conceived and directed as well as choreographed the entire show as a beautiful tribute to the season, and the performers. There are 23 cast members in the show along with four members of the band led by Musical Director, Dr. Sandra Brown on Piano.
The undeniable star of the show is Paul Brown as Santa and Grandfather. He is a jolly Santa Claus and the ideal candidate for the role; already evidencing the practiced moves of a seasoned performer. Every cast member cannot be mentioned in the ensemble group although they are all deserving of high accolades. The four soloist numbers are superbly done by Cameron Blakely, singing ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ and three female soloists with incredible voices. Julie Rodrigues brings ‘Ocho Kandelikas’ to us with remarkable intensity. Mica Martinez is lovely presenting ‘Wexford Carol’ and later singing ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ with charm and sincerity. Hope Chancey delivers an excellent rendition of ‘Last Christmas’ with abundantly solid vocals and glowing stage presence. There are many delightful selections bringing the audience together, but the best surely must be everyone singing ‘Silent Night’–a joy to behold and most certainly to hear!
“Whirling Winter Wonderlands” is showing at the UCO Jazz Lab, 100 E. 5th Street in Edmond, Oklahoma through Saturday, December 15. Curtain is at 7:30 pm, and there is an early evening matinee this Sunday, December 9, at 5:00 pm. For tickets and information call the UCO box office at 405-974-3375 or visit www.ucojazzlab.com. What a wonderful holiday with “Whirling Winter Wonderlands” this Christmas season.
In addition to the wonderful performances mentioned in the Guthrie News Leader from Saturday, December 8, 2018 article above, the entire cast provides excellent vocals. From the beginning number of Act 1, ‘Joy to the World’ with all of the cast members singing to the end of the program at the end of the Act 2, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘New Year’s Day’ the vocalizations are outstanding. Cameron Blakely is the father of the core family experiencing a typical American Christmas, with Nicole Phillips as the mother, and two daughters, Libby McCormack and Chelsea Thiessen. They begin learning of other cultures with a ‘visit’ to Italy and hearing about ‘Dominic the Donkey’ with Bretly Crawford, Seth Brinkley and Logan Vohs. This piece is delightfully amusing, and the travels continue with a change of pace as Julie Rodrigues delights us with the beautiful “Ocho Kandelikas’ and back to a little humor with ‘Aussie Jingle Bells’ featuring Brad Baker, Cameron Blakely and Ryan Brown in a Santa swim suit. Micah Marine, Kalyn Glover and Erica Burkett sing ‘Let it Go’ with unexpected majesty. But the old-fashioned and lovely ‘Oh Tannenbaum’ is begun beguilingly by Olivia White in German with Nicole Phillips singing ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ in English a stirringly warm duet, delightfully followed by ‘Stille Nacht’ sung by everyone.
‘Frosty the Snow Man’ takes us back to the light-hearted with Andrew Ricks, Halsey Shelly, Chelsea Thiessen, Libby McCormack and Ryan Brown as the Santa gets converted to Frosty, one wonders if he actually will melt! Following that is Mica Martinez singing ‘Wexford Carol’ and then she is joined by Garrett Wilson for ‘Christmas in Killarney’ for there is a little killarney in all of us—have you kissed the Blarney Stone? Hope Chancey’s ‘Last Christmas’ is followed by a rousing rendition of ‘Feliz Navidad/Mambo Santa Mambo’ a delightful sketch with Sarah Royse, Hayley Martini, Alexis Lanzo and Ryan Brown because Santa really gets around. Act 1 ends with everyone again singing ‘Christmas is a Feeling’ a great place to break for a short 15 minute intermission.
Everyone appears in several of featured songs throughout the program in both Acts. The second Act is just as excellent vocally as the first, just wait until you see it! Dr. Brown leads an excellent band with Than Medlam on guitar, Kelcie Scarberry-Lee on bass and J. R. Pettis on drums. The setting in the Jazz Lab is quite welcoming, and they have a selection of offerings—Pizza doesn’t seem Christmasy, but it sure goes down great with the music! Not to mention the program, perhaps it was delivered by Dominic the Christmas Donkey but Hideaway Pizza next door is suspiciously close!