REVIEW: WGBH’s ‘Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends’ holiday music special offers some impressive, lighthearted cheer

Ben Folds, award-winning lead singer of Ben Folds Five, rang in the holiday season with some of Boston’s most renowned performers as he hosted Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends which has been featured on WGBY Public TelevisionNew Hampshire PBS, and WGBH 2 this month.  Ben has collaborated with many acclaimed artists in his over 20-year career including Regina Spektor, William Shatner, Tori Amos, and Weezer.  He is also known for performing with many orchestras throughout the world.  Take a closer look at Tis the Night here,  click here to find out when WGBH will broadcast this show next, or here to stream it online.

In this WGBH holiday special, Ben hosts for the most part, leaving it to renowned Boston choruses such as the Boston Children’s Chorus, Handel and Haydn Society, the Harvard- Radcliffe Collegium Musicum, and students from the New England Conservatory to bring in the good cheer.  However, in the few times he collaborated with the artists, this concert special became that much more engaging.

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)

Ben Folds and Caleb Teicher perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH

Tis the Night with Ben Folds and Friends offered a selection of well-known holiday songs done in new, insightful ways.  Surrounded by blue festive lights and illuminated snowflakes, Tis the Night opened fittingly with I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day sung warmly by the Boston Children’s Chorus, dressed in red scarves and multicolored shirts as Ben Folds looks on.

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on Tis the Night (Meredith Nierman - WGBH)2

Handel and Haydn orchestra and chorus perform on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH 

Handel and Haydn’s Society took on three memorable choruses from Handel’s Messiah, which was a lighthearted take from the classic version.  It was refreshing to hear, though I prefer the classic interpretation.  However, the Handel and Haydn Society’s uplifting, angelic harmony was no less impressive, ending on a triumphant note.

Ben Folds took a break from hosting to join NYC choreographer Caleb Teicher for a catchy version of Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.  They were accompanied by New England Conservatory student guitarist Andres Orco-Zerpa and student bassist Tyler Wagner.  Affectionately calling Caleb’s tapping “drumming for your feet,” Ben Folds drummed while singing a duet with Caleb, whose freestyle tapping got more remarkable as the beat escalated.

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH) (1)

Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum performs in ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 2

Conducted by Music Director Andrew Clark, The Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum was a particular highlight.  Their peaceful, silvery vocals enriched their first number, In the Bleak Midwinter as picturesque scenes were shown of new fallen snow topped on trees and covered in fields. Sung entirely acapella, that captivating number was followed by a few more impressive classic Christmas carols.

New England Conservatory student jazz vocalist Darynn Dean, decked out in a shimmering dress and accompanied by student pianist Matthew Thompson, delivered a jazz-infused, airy version of Jingle Bells. Darynn’s agile vocals scat and soared while Matthew’s lighthearted piano solo created an exhilarating medley.

vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on Tis the Night (Sam Brewer - WGBH)2

Vocalist Darynn Dean and pianist Matthew Thomson perform Jingle Bells on ‘Tis the Night’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH 

Under an illuminated starlit sky, New England Conservatory student soprano Saori Erickson accompanied by student pianist Bethany Pietroniro performed a gorgeous, emotionally-rich version of Ave Maria.

soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing Ave Maria (Sam Brewer - WGBH)

Soprano Saori Erickson and pianist Bethany Pietroniro performing ‘Ave Maria’ Photo courtesy of Sam Brewer/WGBH

Ending on a bright, inviting note with Ben Folds, the Boston Children’s Chorus, and Caleb Teicher collaborating on We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Tis the Night offered a few great reasons why the holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre’s 35th anniversary of ‘ChristmasTime’ is most wonderful

Brimming with holiday cheer while celebrating two milestone anniversaries, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is offering a season more spectacular than ever before.  Not only is Reagle celebrating its 50th anniversary, their beloved annual holiday music revue, ChristmasTime is marking 35 magnificent years.  These special ChristmasTime anniversary performances are dedicated to Reagle’s Christmas Angel, Natalie L. Durkin.  ChristmasTime continues through Sunday, December 10.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Christmas Time Photo 4

Raggedy Ann Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Just walking into Robinson Theatre before the performance, attendees are greeted by iconic holiday characters and Victorian carolers as the Robinson halls are decked out onstage and off with brightly lit snowflakes, richly designed Christmas trees, gold embossed wreaths, and the stage festively framed with wooden embroidered angels.  Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston annually features the memorable performances that transformed ChristmasTime into a holiday tradition as well as additional scenes that keep the show fresh each year.

Christmas Time Photo 2

ChristmasTime stage Courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

From touching, candlelit hymns to joyous rollicking Christmas carols for the entire family including a sing-along, Reagle Music Theatre’s production of ChristmasTime never loses steam even in its quietest of moments.  During the holiday season, spend the afternoon witnessing a unique musical revue seeped in a variety of iconic Christmas scenes expertly narrated with the warm, inviting vocals of R. Glen Mitchell and a live orchestra led by Jeffrey P Leonard and Paul S. Katz.  Featuring an enormous, impressive cast of all ages with some performances offered with special permission from Radio City Music Hall, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston travels to distant lands and different time periods from the North Pole to New York City in landscapes painted with picturesque flair by Robert Moody of Santa’s Workshop, Rockefeller Center, Boston’s duck statues, a candlelit church with sunburst stained glass windows, and the stunning, sprawling city of Jerusalem.

Christmas Time Photo 7 - Fred Van Ness Soloist

Renowned Tenor Fred C. VanNess Jr in The Living Nativity

The afternoon also featured an array of special, surprise guests with the returning, suburb talent of renowned tenor, Fred C. VanNess Jr and Mara Bonde’s gorgeous vocals.  Famous scenes of the season include a lively version of The Nutcracker, appearances from Reagle’s Rockettes, a humorous scene from Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, and the suburb The Living Nativity highlighted by popular carols like Little Saint Nick, Jingle Bells, Twelve Days of Christmas, and Christmas medleys capture the Christmas spirit in an unforgettable way.  Scenes are also peppered in performances from toys to trees coming to life dancing to rock, gospel, and much more.  ChristmasTime, through its delightful, stunning vignettes of the season, exhibits a captivating depiction of the meaning of Christmas.

As part of Reagle’s 50th anniversary celebration, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston is holding a limited raffle to win a new Honda Civic.  Click here for further details.

This annual, interactive celebration, which is appropriate for all ages, has a strong following so purchase tickets now.  Each show is held at Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts through December 10.  Call 781-891-5600 or Click here for tickets and for more information and upcoming events in 2018 such as Night Fever:  An Evening With the Bee Gees and A Little Bit of Ireland. Tickets are also available at the theatre box office.