Review: ‘Holiday at Peace’ spotlights thrilling vocals

Greenville NewsFull Review

By Paul Hyde: December 19, 2015

The guest vocalists spotlighted at the annual Holiday at Peace concerts often take it easy.

Backed by the Greenville Symphony, the soloists sing a few pleasing Christmas tunes but nothing too challenging or taxing.

Tenor Gary Mauer and soprano Elizabeth Southard, this year’s guest singers, don’t take it easy.

The husband-and-wife duo, best known for performing the leading roles in “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway, have brought along some thrilling arrangements of what might be called Christmas showstoppers.

There’s an exciting theatricality to the first part of Holiday at Peace, which continues with one more performance this afternoon, 3 p.m. at the Peace Center. The Greenville Symphony’s charismatic conductor Edvard Tchivzhel is on the podium for the 23rd year.

There’s plenty of lighter holiday music on the program, but for this listener the highlight is Mauer’s tour de force performance of the modern Christmas-themed songs “Mary Did You Know” and “The Prayer.”

Mauer has a terrific voice, capable of a wide dynamic range. He’s both a suave crooner and a commanding Broadway vocalist. Mauer thoughtfully dedicated “The Prayer” to the victims of terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.

The musical arrangements themselves turn the songs into Broadway power ballads: beginning softly, building to a tremendous climax and concluding quietly.

Equally dramatic is Southard’s radiant, almost operatic rendition of “O Holy Night,” which she capped off Friday night with a long-held note somewhere in the upper reaches of the stratosphere.

Southard is in nimble comic actress mode, meanwhile, for “The Twelve Days After Christmas,” which pokes good-natured fun at the similarly named yuletide chestnut.

She also applies her sparkling soprano to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Somewhere in My Memory” (from “Home Alone”).

Mauer and Southard join forces for a couple of entertaining duets: “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

Holiday at Peace is a variety show, of course, and the Greer-based International Ballet once again is sharing the stage.

The company’s dancers are in limber, graceful form for Vlada Kysselova’s staging of two uptempo pieces: the “Trepak” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” and Victor Herbert’s “Champagne Galop.”

For the young women dancers, Kysselova and Juliana Jordan also choreographed a disarming “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” featuring a mix of ballet and Rockettes-style moves.

The orchestra is featured alone in several numbers, including Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” and some lively Christmas medleys. Tchivzhel and the musicians dash these off with their customary smooth professionalism.

One disappointment: The front of the orchestra was poorly lit on Friday night when the musicians were playing alone. The lighting for dancers and vocal soloists, however, was excellent.

The Holiday at Peace program concludes, as it always does, with an audience singalong as well as a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus.

It’s safe to say that everyone leaves with a smile on their faces and the holiday spirit in their hearts. For tickets, call 864-467-3000.