WIZARDS OF WINTER – Beginning To Sound A Lot Like Christmas

December 12, 2016, 2 years ago

Mark Gromen

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If Dick Clark could, for decades, call his annual December 31st program "New Year's Rocking Eve," with a parade of teen pop starts and dance music (i.e. not a hint of rock), then I can easily christen Wizards Of Winter, a troupe that sprang to life as a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute/charity act (and now features ex-members of the original TSO line-up), a financially family-friendly rocking Christmas show. Like the jolly present bearing elf, over the years the setlist has plumped up, to include mostly Wizards' originals, as well as traditional holiday songs, and much to the audience's delight, a selection of TSO material, minus the lasers and fiery visuals of their better known inspiration. Guy LeMonnier, one of the TSO vocal alumni, says of the production, “It will always grow every year, but we try to maintain the same core principle. I think the goal is to create a show people can count on every year, the way they do ‘The Nutcracker' or ‘A Christmas Carol.' Those shows don't change." That said, someone apparently read the review and fixed my Grinch-y criticisms of last year's staging. The theme of the show remains a magical journey into a snow globe atop narrator Tony Gaynor's walking stick, travelling through time and space to visit all things Christmas-y, including the biblical story of Jesus.

So apart from a festive seasonal rock show, to get in the holiday mood (which in itself should be enough motivation, this time of year), what does this Xmas extravaganza hold for BraveWords readers? Well, Fred Gorhau (guitar) was in a later day incarnation of Jersey metallers Exxplorer and bassist Greg Smith currently plays with Ted Nugent, as well as possessing a resume filled with recording credits for Alice Cooper, Ritchie Blackmore, Vinnie Moore and Plasmatics frontwoman Wendy O Williams (!), plus tours with Dokken, Joe Lynn Turner & BOC. Street cred. Managed by Megaforce records co-founder Jon Zazula, the Wizards are the brainchild of keyboardist/musical director Scott Kelly, he's joined by virtually the same cast of singers/musicians as last year (new female violinist), which includes his leggy wife/flutist Sharon.

The opening trio from 2015 remains intact, instrumental "Flight Of The Snow Angels", "Magic Of Winter” (a vehicle for Sharon) and "Arctic Flyer", getting things off to a rousing start. During the middle selection, Ms. Kelly and new violinist Jenn Hamilton arch backwards, while still playing, a trick employed repeatedly last year, but now, just once. "What Christmas Really Means" showcases the talents of LeMonnier (who has been moonlighting as a TV actor, when not singing), smoke and twin leads erupting when the song goes from pedestrian to mid-tempo. Gorhau has got himself a pair of black fringed pants, noticeable as he kicks up some dust during TSO's "First Snow". Really something to hear him and T.W. Durfy embellish somber carols, like "Come All Ye Faithful" with scale runs and hammer ons! 

Amongst a cast of seven singer onstage, Vinny Jiovino, he of the shaggy mane, mustache and soul patch, hits some of the highest notes. During "3 Kings: What Really Happened", the retelling of Christ's birth, dropping to one knee to accentuate the final beat. A cover of ELO's "Nutrocker" enlivens things once more. The flutist and violinist face one another, simultaneously trading alternating right/left kicks, before high step marching to the front of the stage. The narrator ad-libs current war torn references (Syria, Aleppo) as a lead-in for Savatage's "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)", Durfy switching to an ESP Flying V knockoff to rock out. During the thunderous number, the plexi-glass drum screen falls off the riser, narrowly missing both Sharon Kelly and Ms. Hamilton.

Prior to taking a short, between sets break, musical director Kelly (long flowing white hair, still looking like Dewey Largo, the music teacher on The Simpsons) introduces each member individually and speaks of their ongoing military charity (Wounded Warriors Project). 15 minutes later, the ensemble returns with "March Of The Metal Soldiers". Is it Ian Anderson's influence or some physiological benefit, but why do all flutists play with one leg behind the other, or like a flamingo, on one leg? Broadway style "Just Believe" has multiple messages. The boy-girl duet is as much about finding love, as the true meaning of Christmas and also a Born Again belief. No such politicking with storming instrumental "Gales Of December", the six-strings unleashed once more, complete with opening keyboard flourish. Kelly headbangs and toys with the crowd. Each musician gets a brief spotlight in its midst. How whipping hair doesn't get caught in either the strings, or violin bow, I'll never know.

Mary McIntyre (who also doubles on synthesizer) is a do-wopping Mrs. Claus, who gets the crowd to clap-along to "Whoville", as the audience participation portion of the show begins. She breaks the fourth wall, venturing into the crowd (even up to the second level), distributing candy canes to children as she sings. "Toys Will Be Toys" has a half dozen beach balls bopped throughout the crowd, sometimes with hilarious results. A metallic "Queen Of The Winter Night" sees Ms. Kelly appear behind the crowd and venture to the stage, delivering a series of high octave scales, not lyrics.

Jiovino returns for an appropriately hued rendition of TSO's "Electric Blue", a slice of funky blues. "The Spirit Of Christmas" and the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends" sees all hands on deck for what is the proper set closer. After the stage goes dark, some offering a standing ovation, Gaynor appears to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and cajoles the audience into "coaxing" the band out for an encore. It's the guitar heavy "Requiem", a TSO adaptation of Beethoven, up first, then the female vocalists, including the Kellys' daughter (on her first tour of duty) Shawna Marie, once more encircling the orchestra seated fans, before heading onstage to finish Vivaldi's "Gloria In Excelsis Deo" (complete with six-string hammer ons!) and "With One Voice", full cast in tow.

Annually, WOW start their rock opera just after Thanksgiving, and in addition to their Tri-state base, throughout the month of December, visit many locations, venturing as far as Wisconsin and Michigan. If you missed them this time around, check them out in 2017.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays & have a (safe) New Years!

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