David Archuleta turns 21 on Dec. 28.
Because of his beliefs, the Murray native most likely will not be celebrating the occasion with a glass of Irish coffee.
So it seemed fitting that you can compare his Monday night performance at a sold-out Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City to a glass of milk. Pleasant and wholesome, yet for the large part unremarkable.
Archuleta is about to finish his nationwide “My Kind of Christmas” tour. He was greeted with standing ovations all night, and was in fine voice, with his low tenor notable for a warm, graceful tone with a bright, full timbre. He continues to get more comfortable on stage each time he appears in Utah, and feeds off the continuing support — not to mention unbridled adoration — he receives in his home state.
While his vocal ability wowed throughout, the stage show was considerably less decorated than his last Abravanel Hall show in Utah, in 2009, right after he released his album “Christmas From the Heart.” The 2009 show featured dramatic lighting that, among other things, illuminated three conical Christmas trees and four ornamental baubles that hung from the rafters. This time, the stage was underwhelmingly bare, save for a Christmas tree at stage left and a large canvas backing that illustrated Archuleta’s name. Most of the time, the stage seemed to glow with muted red lighting as Archuleta stomped around the stage in understated clothing.
The pacing of the show was problematic, as after percussion-heavy renditions of “Sleigh Ride” and two other Christmas songs, Archuleta performed four consecutive songs from his pop albums. Then it was an abrupt transition to a somnambulant version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and then “Climb Every Mountain,” and next an intermission — although it was only 40 minutes into the show. Coupled with opening act Jeff LeBlanc’s 30-minute set that included no holiday songs, it was almost as if this show could have been held on the Fourth of July with its lack of holiday material. In addition, the sound mix was off as Archuleta’s percussionist sounded like Big Drummer Man — rather than a little drummer boy — and the pounding overwhelmed and overshadowed most of the other music.
But the highlights came in the second half, when adult and children choirs joined Archuleta, along with the Lyceum Philharmonic Orchestra from American Heritage School in American Fork. This is where Archuleta’s show shined, along with his fine selection of songs, which were unorthodox but exciting compared to the tried-but-true-but-boring selections of other holiday shows. Archuleta’s rendition of “Ave Maria” was breathtaking in its reverence and phrasing, and his performance of the French Christmas carol “Pat-a-pan,” with a rollicking arrangement from Kurt Bestor, was fun and galloping.
David Osmond, Jenny Frogley, and even Archuleta’s mother Lupe Archuleta were among other surprise guests to the show, which at its best was sublime. It was too bad the entire evening wasn’t perfect. But, perhaps to keep in the holiday spirit, we should offer Archuleta the milk of human kindness.