Presented by the Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed Friday 14th December 2012
For many Adelaide folk the festive season really gets under way with a night out at the Christmas Proms. One glance around the audience reveals people of all ages, from couples to large family groups, and a good many seniors. As the Proms are at the smaller venue of Her Majesty’s Theatre this year, due to the unavailability of the Festival Theatre, extra performances have been scheduled so that the overall capacity remains the same and nobody has to miss out.
This year, the Proms takes us back to the early 1940s, to the sounds of Glenn Miller and the songs of the era, a time when music had memorable melodies, great harmonies, and you could understand every word of the lyrics. There were, of course, Christmas carols and seasonal songs as well. The premise for this performance was that we were a live audience for an ABC radio broadcast, a reinvention of an idea that musical director and conductor, Timothy Sexton, has used before, in a concert at Elder Hall some years ago.
As usual, Sexton conducts his ensemble, the superb 24 piece Adelaide Art Orchestra, and they are joined by the Chattanooga Crooners, taking on the duties Miller’s vocal group, The Modernaires. The original Modernaires began as a male trio in 1935 (Hal Dickinson, Chuck Goldstein, and Bill Conway) and, by 1938 when Miller recruited them, they had added a fourth man (Ralph Brewster). Miller than added a female vocalist (Paula Kelly, at that time married to Hal Dickinson) and that was the group’s format from then on. They sometimes sang as a quintet in their own right, and sometimes as a backing group for the vocals of tenor saxophonist, Gordon ‘Tex’ Beneke.
The orchestra recreated the Miller sound, distinguishable by the arrangements for unison clarinet and saxophone, with three other saxophones in close harmony, all within an octave, and considerable use of muted brass. They did so with great accuracy and with an obvious pleasure and enthusiasm. The strings and singers were dressed in US army uniforms, while the brass and woodwinds were dressed in naval garb. Major Alton Glenn Miller actually conducted the Army Air Force band, but let’s not quibble over a minor wardrobe liberty being taken.
The Chattanooga Crooners updated the sound of The Modernaires a little by having two male vocalists (Adam Goodburn and Mark Oates) and three female vocalists (Rachel McCall, Kristen Hardy, and Gabi Okoe), with Sexton adding his bass vocals in a cappella numbers. Their voices created an excellent blend, with clear harmonies and very good diction.
Every year there are two guest artists and Adelaide’s own versatile and extremely popular vocalist, Johanna Allan, was repatriated for the occasion. The other guest this year is Andy Seymour, whose rich and powerful voice brings a distinctive gospel/rock ‘n’ roll feel to his numbers. Allan’s first appearance was in army uniform but, on the other occasions that she came on stage she wore a stunning array of gowns that made Seymour’s smart, sparkly jacket pale by comparison.
Allan gets better at every hearing and she delighted her fans, who were clearly out in force. Her career has been exceedingly diverse and her ability to embrace so many different styles, from cabaret and musical comedy, to ballads and torch songs, held her in good stead in this concert with its wide variety of material.
Seymour, too, showed that he was quite capable of handling the powerhouse numbers equally as well as the soft, gentle songs such as Silent Night. His interpretations brought a new approach to some old favourites.
Then there were the duets and Allan and Seymour combine beautifully, whether in harmony, or sharing the melody. Adding the Chattanooga Crooners resulted in some thrilling choral work.
The performance was filled with more Miller hits than one could keep count of, and he had a great many hits in his short career, being only forty when he disappeared. Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, Pennsylvania 6-5000, Chattanooga Choo Choo, and the Saint Louis Blues March sat alongside Silent Night, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and other Christmas songs. There was no let up, with one number following hot on the heels of another, although a few more seasonal works might have been advantageous in consolidating the Christmas aspects of the Proms.
The instrumental and vocal music, of course, is not all, as the two red nosed clowns, Moose and Boppa, were also on hand to keep the laughter going with their many zany antics. There was also some fine work from a pair of swing dancers and, naturally, the jolly old fat man in the red suit put in a brief appearance. The audience had to do a bit of work themselves, too, singing along merrily to several Yuletide numbers.
The two hours passed all too quickly, but the performers did not get away without a couple of encores being called for, and delivered. With the Christmas season now officially under way it was back out into the warm night air, with an inner glow, and the music of the Miller band echoing in the mind. Hurry for your dose of Christmas cheer, 1940s style, if there are still tickets available, as I hear it is close to being sold out.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote Street, Adelaide
Season: to 16th December, various times
Duration: 2hrs (incl interval)
Tickets: Premium $50/adult $38/child $33/family [2+2] $110 and extra children $27.50 each
Bookings: BASS 131 246 or here