Holiday concerts just don’t get any better than Colors of Christmas. In a resplendent performance of Christmas classics and R&B favorites, the Strathmore Music Center’s starry-night Colors of Christmas was the perfect way to get into the holiday mood. The power-packed voices of Grammy Award-winning singing star Peabo Bryson and guest vocalists Taylor Dane, Jennifer Holliday, and Ruben Studdard lifted me off on what felt like an interstellar moonwalk to awaken the human spirit through song.
The wide open stage of the Music Center at Strathmore was lit up in a warm, ruddy glow and filled with gorgeous red Christmas poinsettias that set the moment for an intimate evening of feel-good vocals and Christmas cheer. This beautiful holiday tableau was enhanced by the homegrown high school delight, the local Oxon Hill Choir, whose white-robed, heavenly accompaniment gave an angelic, youthful charm to the evening’s celestial festivities.
Peabo Bryson has been enchanting audiences with his Colors of Christmas concert for the past 22 years. But time doesn’t necessarily mean age, and this show was as wondrously fresh as new fallen snow on a country hillside. And if you think there’s little new to be heard with seasonal music, Colors of Christmas presents the time-honored in new tempos and creative harmonies that sound as if you are hearing Christmas classics such as “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for the very first time.
I first fell in love with Peabo Bryson when he sang the title song from Beauty and the Beast with Celine Dion. He went on to create another music box office hit, “A Whole New World,” with Regina Belle in Disney’s delightful Aladdin. However, Peabo has been on the music scene since 1991 with his wildly successful debut album Can You Stop the Rain that he sang in the first act. He’s been an internationally acclaimed, award-winning R&B icon ever since. Peabo connects with his listeners on a first-name kind of basis and it’s hard to keep him on the stage. He sings to the audience FROM the audience and reaches out in a way that is disarming and authentic. You could almost see and feel the chestnuts roasting on an open fire with Peabo’s heartwarming solo, ”The Christmas Song.”
The crystal clear resonance of Taylor Dane’s sassy vocals was a wonderful addition to this lineup of soulful power punchers who sang ensemble and solo. Taylor is a Grammy-nominated songstress whose gold and platinum albums have produced 17 Top 20 singles. “I Always Love You” is a Taylor Dane hit that she first sang some 25 years ago; and she still sings it with the same verve in Colors of Christmas. Her duo of “My Favorite Things” with Ruben Studdard was a jazzy new tempo for this The Sound of Music favorite.
In 2012 Taylor Dane was inducted into the Long Island Musicians Hall of fame along with musical heavyweights Billy Joel, Pat Benatar, Brian Setzer, and Blue Oyster Cult.
And I am telling you that Jennifer Holliday ain’t going nowhere off of the music scene no time soon. Jennifer has a way of pulling a song up from the bottom of her soles to the crown of her lovely head. The song-power that emits from this tiny woman is amazing. It was a holy night and more with Jennifer’s incredible “O Holy Night” and “Come All Ye Faithful” with the backup voices of the choir. Jennifer Holliday has been belting it out with over-the-top vocals for some 33 years dating back to her Tony Award-winning Broadway performance as Effie in Dreamgirls. She sings with infinite force-field, spine-chilling passion that is almost overwhelming. Jennifer received a standing ovation for what she affectionately calls, “My song” – the inimitable, “And I Am Telling You” that closed the first act. They timed the set lineup well because we needed the intermission to catch our breath after Jennifer’s breathtaking, mind-blowing performance of this song.
Golden-voiced Ruben Studdard is a charismatic balladeer who first became a popular soul crooner after winning American Idol in 2003 (can you believe it’s been that long?). Grammy-nominated, Ruben has also gone on to produce gold and platinum albums and played Fats Waller in the national touring musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ as well as starring with Robin Givens in the touring stage comedy Heaven I Need a Hug. Ruben’s up tempo, “Someday at Christmas” was mellow and moving. His deeply resonant solo, “I Need An Angel” and duo with Peabo honoring Marvin Gaye in “What’s Goin On/Mercy Mercy” showcased Ruben’s powerful pipes and teddy-bear appeal.
The wonderful acoustics of the Strathmore Music Center are to be lauded for its capacity to project sound perfection. And under the musical direction of pianist, arranger and conductor Herman Jackson, an ensemble of top-flight musicians on bass, guitar, drums, and keyboards rounded out the flawless musical accent to this starburst of a holiday concert.
Peabo Bryson’s Colors of Christmas is multi-hued and alive with all of the warmth and wonder we have come to love about the Christmas season. Kudos to The Music Center at Strathmore for presenting artistic excellence through this joyous celebration of holiday music.
Running Time: Two hours, plus one 20-minute intermission.
Peabo Bryson’s Color of Christmas played on Friday, December 19, 2014 at 8:00 PM at The Music Center at Strathmore -5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For future events, check their events calendar.