Dallas — The Turtle Creek Chorale’s artistic director, Sean Baugh, says that their concerts have only two rules: 1) Don’t sing along, and 2) Have a good time. The second of these is certainly easy to follow. The opening of Shimmer & Shine: A Holiday Spectacular was exactly that—an extravaganza of aural and visual artistry that uniquely defines this group of roughly 200 male voices, which lit up the Moody Performance Hall to a packed house Friday night.
Kicking off their 2018-2019 Mainstage Season, this holiday program pays little credence to the predictable, clichéd fare of the season and is, instead, a clever collection of thoughtfully chosen works from the fringes of Christmastime popularity. A unifying theme of love runs with stark bearing through the beginning, middle, and end of this program; with such selections as eden ahbez’s “Nature Boy,” David and Bacharach’s “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” and “Love is Christmas” by Sara Bareilles driving the overarching narrative.
The program is also peppered with emotive and engaging solo performances. Lonnie Parks brings a soulful vulnerability to the traditional “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” and a jazzy rendition of “Jingle Bells” is heightened with humor when Chris Doubet is flanked by two members in quasi-drag singing backup vocals in falsetto—or something resembling it.
It is an effective exercise in musical programming, augmented beautifully by thoughtful staging and lighting design. The show opens with a promenade of chorale members filling the darkened aisles of the auditorium, each carrying white orb lanterns. When they file on stage, the orbs are seized by hanging wires and hoisted into the air. In lighter, more mirthful, movements, like “Little Saint Nick,” the stage is choked with boisterous costumes, brightly colored props, and the group’s energetic dance troupe, Soundbytes. This special intent and attention payed toward the aesthetic aspects of the show does well to add dimension and intrigue to the group’s sound.
As a group comprised primarily of non-professional musicians and vocalists, there is a noticeable thinness in timbre and tone. The arrangements featured little harmonic complexity or compositional bravado, but these are not the aims of this ensemble. Instead, this music encourages attendees to let their hair down and to be open to the simple universality of the messages and themes. Tonally, they are pleasant, solid, and enjoyable. More importantly, the group maintains a level of engagement that translates to sincere storytelling.
Along with skillful accompaniment from Principal Pianist Scott Ayers and a troupe of onstage instrumentalists, the group delivers a thoroughly entertaining program with a cleverly crafted holiday message. Here, they’ve struck a refreshing balance of camp, nuance, and depth that makes a lovely addition to the list of Christmas productions happening throughout the Metroplex.