The day before Thanksgiving, my mom, daughter Maddie and one of her dearest friends Alyse got to spend a couple hours at Quality Hill Playhouse. Let me say this up front, I now go into shows with the Heartland Men’s Chorus Director Joe Nadeau’s words in my mind — shows should have TLC – tears, laughter and chills. I look for those moments with anticipation and Quality Hill Playhouse delivers in spades.
After we attended Christmas in Song, the four of us headed for milkshakes and I pulled out the program and a pen. We took time and talked about the program. Funny, the girls had their favorites; my mother had hers and I had mine. It was downright charming to dissect the show like this.
My mother is a more traditional sort of woman so she adored Lindsey McKee’s version of Ave Maria and LaTeesha McDonald Jackson singing Psalm 27, a song that has not had much play anywhere except at Quality Hill Playhouse.
The girls, remember they are tweens, loved Light a Candle with Molly Hammer taking the lead on the song. They appreciated the group with pianist/emcee Kent Barnhart singing Tom Lehrer’s A Christmas Carol. The girls also loved Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise. McKee, with that proper British sound, nailed this song about a women’s society’s extreme and creative potluck. Maddie, my sentimental child, liked Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with Jackson leading the others. She enjoyed Barnhart’s story about dark lyrics that had to be rewritten during the filming of Meet Me in St. Louis.
For me, I think I liked the songs that might not have as much pop as those played for Christmas radio. Jackson performed Christmas Star and Hammer performed two I liked called One Bright Star and then Grown-Up Christmas List. That last one is probably the only one people would really know.
I have had the joy to sit down with Barnhart on a couple of occasions to interview him. I have also had the joy of sitting in the intimate theater space of Quality Hill Playhouse and partake of/in the unique cabaret setting. My daughter had never attended a show there until this Christmas program. I asked her what she thought and her response: , “It’s very homey.” I appreciated the comment. That’s what Barnhart and Managing Director Rick Truman always tell me: “It’s about the closeness, like sitting in someone’s living room.”
One more thing, while Barnhart is more than cool when it comes to his knowledge of the American Songbook and his creative way to put together a charming and insightful program, Barnhart is a first-rate pianist. I was waiting for that piano to start walking across the stage with the ferocity he plays a powerful arrangement of Jingle Bells one has to hear to believe.
So, am I a fan of Quality Hill Playhouse — undoubtedly. Should you be a fan this holiday season? Without question. Christmas in Song plays through Christmas Eve.