While Saturday afternoon’s weather outside was somewhat frightful, it was the music inside Marian University Theatre that was delightful. The Indianapolis Men’s Chorus let go and let it snow with a matinee performance of the holiday show titled Be Merry, Be Bright!—a title in sync with IMC’s “Let It B” theme this season, in which it’s delivering songs and homages revolving around that letter. For the Christmas shows on Dec. 20 and 21, these men channeled Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Burt Bacharach, and Irving Berlin, among others.
Around the 3 p.m. start time, an audence ranging from gleeful children to cultured adults nearly filled the auditorium. IMC opened Act I with an effortlessly sharp version of “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” blended with Frank Sinatra’s famous “Christmas Waltz.” And immediately the crowd was tuned in. Early in the show, subtle oohs and aahs from onlookers created a nostalgic feel as the gents elegantly harnessed an era known for classy dancing and dapper tuxedos.
The “WIMC Christmas Radio Hour” in Act I showed the guys’ winking side, with a comical radio-commercial bit about staying easy on the eyes with a particular hair gel, as well as a unique take on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” The performance was spot on. The unique part was watching two men perform the classic tune, even ending it with a confident kiss in front of a family-heavy crowd. It was fantastic to see an entire family in front of me, as well as audience members throughout the theater, cheer on the smooch with such support.
Near the end of Act I, realistic “snow” fell on the group’s tender rendition of the impending holiday’s arguably most popular song of all time, “White Christmas.” Then a high-octane version of Streisand’s “Jingle Bells” was especially fun to watch as its up-and-down tempo sent us to intermission.
Many classics got the IMC treatment in Act II, including a warm reading of “Carol of the Bells.” If the show had a slip-up, it was right after that song, during the somewhat difficult refrain in “Ding Dong Merrily on High”—you know, that rise-and-fall melody of “Gloria!” But any notice of that slight vocal separation was wiped away during a soulful “Go Where I Send Thee,” featuring a crowd-wooing solo by Ryan Smith. (It wasn’t so long ago that Smith heard the famous words “You’re going to Hollywood” from American Idol judges.)
The playfulness peaked midway through Act II with the quirkiness of Bacharach’s “Turkey Lurkey Time.” That song, full of fun choreography and the merging of retro fashions with formal tuxes, made for a laughing-out-loud audience and the loudest applause of the show.
Soon after came the heartwarming high of the night, a haunting performance of the beautiful “Ave Maria” sung by Alex Reuter, IMC’s first tenor section leader. His solo transitioned nicely into the bittersweet and reminiscent staging of “Believe” from The Polar Express.
Toward the end of Act II, it was easy to see why IMC received Best Of Indy kudos from this publication as Best Playful Choir. The boys finished off the show by delivering a reprise of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” to a standing ovation. From that funny bit about hair gel to goofy-yet-fitting dancing, from “Jingle Bells” to “Turkey Lurkey Time,” their contagious fun was simultaneously carefree and proper.
Overall, artistic director Greg Sanders shaped a healthy mix of humor and pitch-perfect vocals with a sharp backing band and choreography. Choreographer Anne Beck deserves credit for understanding the talents of IMC and arranging them accordingly. Sometimes a choir will overdo its choreography to hide a relatively weak company—think high-school singers—but that’s simply not the case with these men, all of whom volunteer their talents, mind you.
As the songs continued out into the parking lot, mostly through the un-self-conscious singing of children with smiling parents, I left feeling festive and ready for the most wonderful time of the year.