Even when you’re an experienced professional performer, there will be some shows that are fine — and some that are truly special.
The Broadway pros and local musicians in this year’s Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration ought to rank Saturday afternoon’s season debut among the latter. Though their previous editions have long been satisfying, the cast’s energy was especially palpable for the first of their 10 performances through Dec. 20.
The company, led by newly titled Principal Pops Conductor Ernest Richardson and husband-and-wife directors Parker Esse and Maria Turnage, surely got an extra infusion of spirit from a near-capacity Holland Performing Arts Center audience and a turn in the outdoor weather toward a more typical December chill.
But this year’s ensemble is among the most experienced Richardson has yet assembled for the symphony’s annual showcase. Not only is Esse directing his third edition (with his wife working alongside him for the first time), but all four principal singers (Richard Todd Adams, Tiffany Haas, Siri Howard and Kevin Vortmann) and several other company members also are established Holland and Broadway veterans.
And then there’s the venerable Dave Webber, now performing in his 19th edition of the symphony’s Christmas show. He anchored the traditional “Be a Santa” first-act finale (with 26 Santas in the kick line this year). If you go to subsequent performances, though, pay attention to Webber’s vocal performance at the head of a men’s trio on the previous number, “Marshmallow World.”
Consider especially his two “backup singers”: Adams and Vortmann, both with spectacular performing credentials verified once more on Saturday. They didn’t “make” Webber “look good” — for Webber, indeed, was that impressive.
With apologies to the other regular features of the symphony’s Christmas show — all beautifully performed on Saturday afternoon — these other highlights deserve attention:
» The second act’s “Finding Christmas” is the third annual mini-musical written for “Christmas Celebration” — and it’s the best-executed yet. It tells how Santa charges his assistants to help a 10-year-old boy believe in Santa in a home saturated with smartphones but drained of Christmas spirit.
» In presenting “Christmas in England, 1919,” the first act paid homage to the British drama “Downton Abbey” in advance of its final PBS season. It featured a medley of English carols, twirling, dancing servants and a re-enactment of the snowy marriage proposal of Matthew Crawley to Lady Mary Crawley.
» Finally, the program gave no warning of the Omaha Symphony singing debut of — wait for it — one Ernest Richardson. After conducting Howard and the symphony in “Let It Go,” Richardson let loose (aided by his orchestra’s rhythm section) on Louis Armstrong’s “Zat You, Santa Claus?” How did he do? Well, he’s no Dave Webber. But this guy’s got legitimate singing chops.
Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration
What: Pops concert
When: Through Dec. 20. Showtimes: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 20.
Where: Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St.
Tickets: $19 to $89. $10 tickets are available to students with a valid school ID one hour before the performance.
Information: omahasymphony.org or 402-345-0606