Second albums are tough, especially if the first album was well-received. Thankfully, after several listens, the sophomore slump phenomenon doesn't interfere with Holidazzle Act II, the second charity Christmas album from DFW Actors Give Back. This project features songs sung and arranged by members of the local musical theater community. As with the first one, proceeds benefit Jonathan's Place, a haven for abused children.
Even if it's not quite as dazzling as the debut Holidazzle in 2009, it's still a dandy. The album goes on sale today (Nov. 7, 2011) and there's a CD release party at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.
Like the first album, there's a nice diversity of vocals and music styles, with a mix of upbeat tunes and ballads, religious and secular (mostly the latter), traditional and pop. There's not an entirely original song like "You Go On" on the first Holidazzle, but there is a fun, original version of a holiday staple.
Throughout, there's expert music direction from Bob Hess, K. Doug Miller, Vonda Bowling, Adam C. Wright, Mary Medrick, Scott A. Eckert and Lindy Heath Cabe. Several of the arrangements—notably a front porch jam-tinged medley of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings" (featuring Doug Jackson, Willy Welch, Arianna Movassagh and John Venable) and a stunning choral "Silent Night"—are inventive, although there's nothing quite as ear-catching as the arrangement of "Carol of the Bells" on the first album.
The possible exception would be "Mister Santa," which is sung Andrews Sisters-style by Bowling, Megan Kelly Bates, Marisa Diotalevi and Mary Gilbreath Grim to the tune of "Mr. Sandman." They're in beautiful harmony, and it's so much fun that you imagine bubbles and confetti in the recording studio. Take a listen:
This being a group of musical theater people, you'd think there'd be more holiday tunage from that world, such as "Hard Candy Christmas" on the first album. The closest to that here is a delightful version of Irving Berlin's "Snow" from the film White Christmas, which is now a touring musical that's coming to Bass Hall later this month. The 10-member chorus that backs lead vocalists Bob Hess, Shane Peterman, Stephanie Riggs, Sally Soldo and Randy Pearlman has a blast with this one:
In the ballad department, there's a lovely "Merry Christmas, Darling" (a solo by Cara Statham Serber); and James Horner, Will Jennings and Mariah Carey's "Where Are You, Christmas?" (from the film How the Grinch Stole Christmas), sung by Patty Breckenridge and Ashley Puckett Gonzales with a children's chorus. Also in that category is the final track, "The Night Before Christmas." It's a surprise because it's not the poem you're thinking of; it's the song by Carly Simon, sung by Catherine Carpenter Cox, Kayla Carlyle, Jennifer Green, Stephanie Young Brehm and Erica Peterman.
Then there's David Foster and Carol Bayer Sager's "The Prayer," with vocals by Noelle Stanley Mason, Wendy Welch, Connie Kegg, Alexander Ross, Keith J. Warren and Bradley Campbell. This one gets operatic, with Campbell singing in Italian.
On the upbeat side, there's the opener "That's What Christmas Means to Me" (Denise Lee, Jeff Kinman, Susan Mills and Darius-Anthony Robinson on vocals); a sassy "Sleigh Ride" (Natalie King, Sheran Goodspeed Keyton, Sara Shelby-Martin and Yolanda Williams); and Julie Johnson taking the lead on Maria Christiansen and Curtis Frasca's "Christmas Eve" (best known for Celine Dion's version). Johnson is backed by Mary Gilbreath Grim, Erica Harte and Kristin Spires.
The best track from the pop canon is Nadine McKinnor and Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas," belted out by Markus Lloyd and Dallas' newest Broadway star, Liz Mikel. Check it:
You can imagine the shenanigans that must have happened in the recording studio for "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," performed by K. Doug Miller and Gregory Lush, along with three actors who can do hammy with style: Jim Johnson, B.J. Cleveland and David Coffee. Here, they're all Christmas hams.
Even more fun is an original, theater-trash take on "The Twelve Days of Christmas," with new lyrics by K. Doug Miller. It's called "Twelve Daze of a Theatrical Christmas," and the "gifts" that "my theater gave to me" include "nine nagging divas," "five minutes to places" and "two false eyelashes." As the descending list of gifts lengthens, the ad-libs from the performers are priceless, especially the digs at "four feisty critics" ("why would they come to a preview?"). Listen for yourself:
Hands down, the best track is one of the most famous titles, "I'll Be Home for Christmas," sung a cappella by Gary Floyd with supporting vocals from Sonny Franks and Todd Hart. You'll just have to hear this one for yourself:
You can hear the rest of the tracks when you purchase the album, which is $15, and is available at www.dfwactorsgiveback.org. It's also available at area theaters (Circle Theatre, Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theater, Onstage in Bedford, Stage West, Theatre Arlington, Theatre Three, WaterTower Theatre), plus at opening nights only for upcoming productions at Theatre Too! (It's Only Life, Nov. 14), Garland Civic Theatre (Hairspray, Nov. 17), Dallas Children's Theater (Madeline's Christmas and The Nutcracker, Nov. 18) and One Thirty Productions at the Bath House Cultural Center (Greetings, Nov. 30).
And, natch, you can buy it at the release party tonight.