With school out, snow on the ground and kids eagerly anticipating toys under the tree, the holidays are the ideal time for family entertainment. Note, for the record, that I didn't say "children's entertainment." There is a world of difference between entertaining kids and entertaining an entire family. For a prime example of the latter, take this past weekend's concert by the New York Pops.
Joined by the Young People's Chorus of New York City and under the baton of John Morris Russell, the hour-long concert offered a mix of traditional carols and other holiday songs (including a Hanukkah medley). A musical highlight was a choral arrangement of Wesley Whatley and Bill Schermerhorn's "I Believe," an anthem of faith that manages to balance childish innocence with pure determination, and that brought a tear to at least one jaded, cynical critic's eye. (As for me, I had a lash stuck in my eye. No, really.)
Tony-nominee John Tartaglia of Avenue Q, Shrek and Johnny and the Sprites fame joined the kids and the musicians to read Chris Van Allsburg's modern Christmas classic The Polar Express, which nicely fit the overarching themes of faith and belief. The reading was underscored by music from the 2004 animated feature performed by both the Pops and the choir, creating a multi-sensory experience of spoken word and both sung and orchestral music. After the reading, Santa himself walked down the aisle to chat with both Johns (Russell and Tartaglia), and to announce that all kids in the audience would receive a silver bell (as in the book) as a gift.
After the concert, I ducked backstage to chat with "Johnny T," who got his start in the industry in one form of family entertainment with Sesame Street and has continued it with Johnny and the Sprites and Shrek. Tartaglia appeared at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops in New Faces of 2003 when Avenue Q first opened, and had been invited by James Johnson, the artistic director of the Pops, to appear in this concert. "They're such a wonderful family, and it's such an honor, so of course I said ‘yes' very quickly," he said happily. "I didn't even think twice."
One of the aspects of the concert that appealed to Tartaglia was the old-fashioned nature of the concert, and the intimacy of performing live. "One of the reasons I love this project so much is because The Polar Express is all about believing, and keeping the faith of Santa Claus," he added. "Nowadays, kids are forced to grow up so quickly by what they're exposed to, whether it's on television or what's happening in the world. I'm a big supporter of anything that challenges kids to imagine and believe and keep that fantasy alive as long as you can." That sense of fantasy, he continued, is an important for adults as for kids. "I wish more adults carried that around with them. The people who do tend to be happier people. So it's healthy to have a good imagination as an adult."
As an entertainer, Tartaglia believes that kids are the best audiences. "Of course, I love entertaining for adults," he quickly added. "It's something I want to do, and love to do, too, but I think that my hope is that whatever work I do is always able to reach families, everyone from .9 to 99. I think good entertainment can do all of that." Family entertainment, as opposed to children's entertainment, can be more effective in getting a messages across. "I find that kids not only learn the most, but take the most away when they experience theater with their families," he said. "Sesame Street is what started that, and that's why they had the celebrity cameos-it was to get adults to watch with their kids, ‘cause kids learn better that way."
Pop culture, Tartaglia says, is cyclical, and while technology may be changing the way people are entertained, we always come back to the basics. "There will always be room for hand puppets and simple hand-drawn animation and costume characters," he said. "Those are just staples." As is classic music from orchestras like the New York Pops, of course. "It's the most wonderful thing to sit on that stage and hear that glorious orchestra," he said happily. "I had a hard time concentrating because I was so overwhelmed by that."
Photo Credit: Monica Simoes
The New York Pops
Guest Conductor John Morris Russell and the New York Pops
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Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and a stage manager. While a student at Wells College, she also wrote for and edited the student newspaper, reviewing books, movies, and local theatre. By the time she graduated, Tesse knew that she was destined to be a theatre journalist, and so she is very excited to join the team of BroadwayWorld.com. |
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