When a concert features five top local singers, titled “A Diva Holiday – From Naughty to Nice,” things could either go south in a hurry or result in an evening of seasonal enjoyment.
Forget about the negative connotations of the term “diva,” as these singers shelved competitiveness and posturing for a mostly satisfying program of 35 holiday selections, tied loosely together by Eric Jensen’s sometimes awkward but ultimately amusing script. The singers performed solos and in various ensemble groupings while Grand Theatre regular Jonathan McBride, as a Grinch-like night custodian whose services were drafted when the M.C. got stuck in traffic, delivered Jensen’s often rhyming narration with understatement.
The vocalists were backed by a well-balanced eight-piece combo, directed by keyboardist and music arranger Kevin Mathie, whose orchestrations transitioned from rock to jazz, reggae to blues, and country to gospel. Unfortunately, several arrangements took singers out of their comfort zone and stylistic capabilities.
Luckily, that wasn’t the case with Erica Hansen, who used to work in talk radio. Her velvety sound caressed during “Christmas Time is Here” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and charmed during “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with McBride. Her vocal wiles are also probably equal to soothing the savage beast during her day gig in public relations with Hogle Zoo.
Clinton resident and gospel choir director Detorea Oliver displayed a deep, nuanced mezzo during “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays.” Her reflective delivery was compelling, but it was her brief but memorable turn during the up-tempo ensemble piece “Run Rudolph Run” that allowed her to show-off her gospel chops.
Songs like “Let it Snow!” and “Wonderful Christmastime” came unnaturally for Alicia Washington, who often sang a bit sharp and showed some vocal strain, but she found her comfort zone with the 12-bar blues arrangement of “Merry Christmas, Baby,” displaying plenty of attitude and riveting style.
Erica Walters’ engaging personality charmed with a silvery, upper register vocal ping that projected well during “My Grown-Up Christmas List” (watch out Amy Grant). Wearing a scarlet dress that was cut at the bottom like flames licking at her ankles, Walters heated up the stage with “Feliz Navidad,” but MacKenzie Seiler really sizzled as she took over the melody and upped the voltage with Tina Turner intensity. Seiler brought down the house with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” allowing her big voice to rip loose during the song’s stop-time climax.
Besides the singers, John Flanders’ tasty sax and flute solos were a highlight, and Gar Ashby’s shredding guitar licks were much too brief. Christmas trees, large ornaments and a fireplace on the stage, dressed by scenic designer Kevin S. Dudley, set a cozy mood, while Seth Miller’s lighting design was inviting and seamlessly executed.
Come let us adore Utah divas
R Grand Theatre presents “A Diva Holiday,” with Erica Hansen, Detorea Oliver, Alicia Washington, Erica Walters and MacKenzie Seiler.
Bottom line • Holiday-themed music review presented with style, humor and a bit of attitude.
When • Reviewed Thursday, Dec. 6; continues Dec. 7, 8 and 10, 7:30 p.m.
Where • 1575 S. State St., Salt Lake Community College South City Campus, Salt Lake City
Info • $10-$24, at 801-957-3322; www.the-grand.org
Running time • Two hours 50 minutes, including intermission