Sandi Patty, Von Trapps, and More Star in ISO's Yuletide

From star power to “The Santatizer,” costuming to the company, this annual show rings in the holidays in spectacular fashion—and do see a special note at the end of this review.

To steal lyrics from a musical on everyone’s lips lately, “These are a few of my favorite things …”

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s annual Yuletide Celebration could be renamed Sandi Patty’s Master Class of Versatility. During her sixth time as host of ISO’s holiday tradition, she was playful, poised, and grounded in her delivery.

Patty’s first welcome to the audience included an explanation of her life changes since her last time on the Hilbert Circle Theatre stage, including a new daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and most important, “the most beautiful grandchild in the world.” These changes, blended with her vast stage experience in garnering multiple Grammy and Dove awards, proved the perfect recipe to allow her to confidently and humbly command the audience’s attention for the ensuing two hours.

Throughout the evening, Patty revealed various realms of her range, both musical and stylistic, but none was jaw-dropping quite like “Wonderful Child,” in which she almost literally took the theater to church. Wearing a fully sequined gown, one of 12 by the eagled-eyed costumer Clare Henkel, Patty brought down the house with that number, Mariah Carey gesticulations in tow.  

Maestro Jack Everly played the unofficial emcee and straight man to Patty’s pranks throughout the performance, even as he skillfully directed the always impressive orchestra. A number of moments allowed the ISO to prove just how lucky this city remains to call them its own, but one standout came early in Act I, led by concertmaster Zachary De Pue, who breathed new life into “Good King Wenceslas” with his violin solo.

What this Yuletide’s musical guests, The von Trapps, lacked in charisma, they more than made up for in harmonies and tear-inducing nostalgia, breaking into “So Long, Farewell” early on in Act I.

For all the star wattage of The von Trapps, Patty, and the ISO, the performers populating this Yuletide company must be mentioned. A versatile cast of 23, under the vocal direction of Greg Sanders, flexed its vocal muscle numerous times, including the chill-inducing closing number—“O Holy Night”—with a sound as large as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Production value was at a premium in the highly capable hands of co-directors and choreographers Jennifer Ladner and Jacob Brent. With a wink and a nod, they, too, showed their versatility by putting the cast through its paces in dances ranging from lyrical to tap and back again. Steering the staging from the beginning, the unseen mastermind and executive producer Ty Johnson—quite literally the man behind the curtain—showed why he and Everly form such an amazing tandem in creating the cheekily perfect “The Santatizer” (See what they did there? Would you like to know what it means? Get to the show.)

A few missed sound cues and opening-night jitters belied this fact: The ISO will surely charm the likes of any fun-lacking Baroness in your life this holiday season. That’s good news for you, while the ISO’s just-announced budget surplus, its first since 2007, is great news for the organization—and, says here, the city of Indianapolis itself.

Note: At the performers’ after-party, Johnson and Everly genuflected before Patty and “proposed” to her—offering her a starring role in ISO’s 30th-anniversary Yuletide performances to come in 2015. Naturally, she said yes.

Photos courtesy Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Yuletide Celebration. Hilbert Circle Theatre, 45 Monument Circle. Now through Dec. 23; showtimes vary. Tickets and more at