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The New York Pops: The Best Christmas of All with Norm Lewis

Joy filled the Christmas concert at Carnegie Hall with announced guest artist Norm Lewis and surprise guest artist Vanessa Williams with Steven Reineke and The New York Pops.

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Special Guest Vanessa Williams, Guest Artist Norm Lewis with maestro Steven Reineke, The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA at Carnegie Hall on December 22, 2023 (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Joy filled Carnegie Hall with The New York Pops’ annual two-night Christmas concert entitled “The Best Christmas of All” led by genial host, music director and conductor Steven Reineke. This year’s guest artist was Broadway baritone Norm Lewis who was joined by several announced and several surprise guests: soprano Vanessa Williams (Friday night only), Pastor Bobby Lewis (actually a cousin of Norm Lewis), 14-year-old percussionist Jonathan Logan, guest conductor Ruthanne Ruzika and the annual visit of Santa Claus with elf Pecan Pie. The program was mainly made up of old favorites and one or two unfamiliar compositions which were greeted with ovation after ovation from the sell-out crowd.

While there were announced special guests for the first half of the concert, the big surprises came in the second half: Vanessa Williams looking gorgeous in a light blue sequined gown with matching blue fur collar joined Lewis in a royal velvet blue suit to sing the Frank Loesser duet, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in which they amusingly switched lyrics halfway through. She then sang Ted Shapiro’s “Winter Weather” from her second Christmas album which features a trumpet solo and where she let loose after the second verse. She was rapturously received in both numbers.

Special Guest Pastor Bobby Lewis and  Guest Artist Norm Lewis with maestro Steven Reineke, The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA at Carnegie Hall on December 22, 2023 (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Earlier Judith Clurman, music director of Essential Voices USA, premiered her inspiring “Chanukah Joy and Peace” in both Hebrew and English, written with composer David Chase, conducted by Clurman and performed with Essential Voices USA.  This was followed by the Joseph Joubert arrangement for “The Little Drummer Boy” in which Norm Lewis was joined by 14-year-old prodigy Jonathan Logan on drums making his third appearance with The New York Pops (he had been in the “Kids on Stage” program previously) which led to a huge ovation.  Like Ravel’s “Bolero,” this number rose in tempo and intensity.

Norm Lewis’ rendition of “Ave Maria” and “O Holy Night” with Essential Voices USA brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation. The surprise visit of Santa Claus and his elf Pecan Pie followed. The final set was the evening’s piece de resistance, the annual sing-along that included Williams, Norm Lewis, Bobby Lewis, Logan, Clurman, Santa Claus and Pecan Pie. The favorites included “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Jingle Bells” with most of the audience clapping in unison.

Pecan Pie and Santa Claus with maestro Steven Reineke, The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA at Carnegie Hall on December 22, 2023 (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

The evening consisted of orchestra interludes, concerted numbers between The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA, solos by Norm Lewis, and performances by and with the special guests. The concert opened with The New York Pops playing John Williams’ dynamic “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas” from the cult favorite Home Alone and Larry Blank’s rousing arrangement of Jerry Herman’s “The Best Christmas of All” from his television musical Mrs. Santa Claus, both joined by Essential Voices USA, under the direction of Judith Clurman.

Norm Lewis then sang three popular Christmas songs in his rich and resonant baritone: Evans and Livingston’s “Silver Bells” in the Steven Reineke arrangement with Essential Voices USA, and solos of the ever new Mel Tormé/Robert Wells’ “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” and of the melancholy “Home” from Charlie Smalls’ The Wiz in the Joseph Joubert arrangement which will be heard on Broadway this spring. This was followed by three orchestral numbers from The New York Pops: a showy rendition of Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got Your Love to Keep Me Warm,” the sparkling “Carol of the Bells,” a tribute to Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovich, and Ralph Hermann’s toe-tapping version of “Winter Wonderland” which alternated between big sounds and lower sounds from the orchestra which received a big ovation.

Special Guest percussionist Jonathan Logan and Guest Artist Norm Lewis with maestro Steven Reineke, The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA at Carnegie Hall on December 22, 2023 (Photo credit: Richard Termine)

Another surprise event followed: Ruthanne Ruzika who had won the raffle to guest conduct the orchestra at last spring’s 40th anniversary concert led a luscious rendition of the “Trepak” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Maestro Reineke revealed that he had given her a lesson earlier that day. Then Norm Lewis introduced his cousin Pastor Bobby Lewis of the New Life Baptist Church in Harlem and they sang a duet of the joyous “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” in the new Joubert arrangement with orchestration by Reineke which made extensive use of drum accompaniment. This brought down the house. This was followed by an exuberant rendition of the traditional “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in the Reineke arrangement, with accompaniment by Essential Voices USA also clapping along. This precipitated cheers from the assembled Carnegie Hall audience.

The New York Pops: The Best Christmas of All with Norm Lewis (December 22 & 23, 2023)

Carnegie Hall

Isaac Stern Auditorium/Ronald O. Perelman Stage, 881 Seventh Avenue at 57th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call Carnegie Charge at 212-247-7800 or visit http://www.CarnegieHall.org

Running time: two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (971 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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