Now in its 41st season, celebrated orchestra The New York Pops presents The Best Christmas of All, with guest Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and SAG Award nominee Norm Lewis.
Also joining this sparkling and wondrous evening of music is another of the New York Pops oft time guests, prominent New York choral ensemble Essential Voices USA, under the direction of Judith Clurman.
The enthusiastic audience bursts into applause as conductor Steven Reineke takes to the stage with his usual boundless energy and eager enthusiasm. After a quick bow and winning smile, he promptly treats the attendees to John Williams’ “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas” (Home Alone) and Jerry Herman’s “The Best Christmas of All” (Mrs. Santa Claus), both well complemented by the rich voices of EVUSA.
Six-foot frame bursting with charm and charisma, Norm Lewis makes his much anticipated entrance, beginning with a glorious “Silver Bells” with EVUSA, followed by an innocent “The Christmas Song,” a favorite of his personal icon Johnny Mathis (“Eskimos” safely swapped out for “winter clothes”).
Transitioning easily between his legit booming baritone vocals and his casual, conversational patter, Lewis shares his love for The Wiz as a young teen, bringing us his touching and passionate version of “Home” from the musical.
Lewis hands the stage back to Reineke and the orchestra, which presents Irving Berlin’s slightly jazzy “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and flecked with xylophone, trumpet, and guitar notes. A richly textured “Carol of the Bells” is dedicated to Ukraine and its Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich, followed by Felix Bernard’s classic “Winter Wonderland” taken in an easy gallop and with just a little bit of swing.
Norm Lewis takes center stage once again, this time joined by cousin and pastor Bobby Lewis; together, their differing vocal styles blend nicely for Johnny Mark’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and segue into gospel stylings for “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” joined by EVUSA and making for a rousing act I finish.
For the second half, the orchestra begins with a light-hearted “Jingle Bell Rock,” containing touches of banjo and electric guitar. EVUSA soars in a feature moment with Judith Clurman and David Chase’s “Chanukah Joy and Peace,” directed by Clurman.
Making his second act entrance sporting a blue velour jacket and a dazzling smile, Lewis shows how lithe his big voice can be with Donny Hathaway and Nadine McKinnor’s “This Christmas.” He is then joined by 17-year old drummer Jonathan Logan (making his third Carnegie Hall appearance) for a fresh and impressive “The Little Drummer Boy.”
Lewis and EVUSA finish their combined set with a hopeful “I Believe in Santa Claus” and a gorgeous “Ave Maria” into “O Holy Night”, the latter dedicated to moms everywhere. The evening finished with a visit by Santa Claus and his elf Pecan Pie, and a “Jingle, Jangle Sing-Along,” joined once again by Bobby Lewis.
Each of the two evenings on which The Best Christmas of All is presented contain a surprise guest. Vanessa Williams appeared on the first evening. On the December 23rd performance, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre came out and read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” aka “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” in honor of the 200th anniversary (to the day) of its publishing in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823.
Although less secular than expected, The Best Christmas of All is nonetheless universally enjoyable and marks another great evening for the New York Pops. The bi-directional lighting on the awkward wreath arrangement above the stage seems to spell the word ‘Love’ on the back wall–an apt reminder for this holiday season and for our world today.
The New York Pops Presents: The Best Christmas of All with Norm Lewis (two nights only, December 22-23, 2023)
New York Pops Orchestra
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage, 881 7th Ave, in Manhattan
For more information about future shows, visit https://newyorkpops.org/