On Saturday night I drove west of Indianapolis to Danville to meet my friend, actor Jack Gramling, for a two-part concert to benefit the Danville High School band department. The concert was called “Holiday Melodies.” I suppose that it does not, technically, fit the scope of this blog, but I want to write about it here anyway. It was live entertainment, it was fun, and it introduced me to some new stories through song.
During the first part of the program, Danville native Levi Riggs sang and played a variety of country, rock, and gospel songs with his sister and their friends. A few were original songs off his new CD, just released in September. My favorite of these was a poignant song called “Headed Home.” Riggs wrote it after a friend of his died in a motorcycle accident. You can hear it on his MySpace page.
During the intermission, Jack and I sampled several yummy treats from a mile-long (it seemed) table of homemade desserts. Neither of us won a door prize but our friend Jerry did, which was almost as fun.
The second part of the concert featured soprano Jodi Wingler. I had heard Wingler sing for the first time when she played Nellie Forbush in “South Pacific” at the Myers Dinner Theatre in October. It was fun, now, to get to hear her “just” sing a variety of Christmas carols, opera pieces, and Broadway tunes.
Three songs, in particular, were highlights for me:
“O Mio Babbino Caro” was an aria from an opera called “Gianni Schicchi.” Wingler said in her introduction that we would probably recognize the aria. I did, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that it was about a daughter throwing a tantrum. It was simultaneously lovely and passionate, and it made me think that I need to find time to go to a whole opera more often.
“Please Don’t Make Me Love You” was from “Dracula the Musical,” which Wingler said had not done well in the United States but which was doing very well in Europe. I don’t know anything about that show except what Wingler told us, but I do know how the song made me feel. Mina is singing to the vampire, begging him to leave her alone, even though she knows it is illogical of her to even ask, and that her heart is already his. “Simplify my life by setting me free,” she sings, but adds, “Please don’t make me love you…unless you love me.” Oh, my, this song made me swoon and remember my own illogical, doomed loves. I hope I get a chance to see/hear the whole show some day.
“For Good” was from “Wicked,” a Broadway hit. I had heard bits and pieces from that show, but never the whole thing, and I had not heard this song. It made me weep! The singer talks about people who come into your life in order for you to learn something. She sings, “I don’t know if I have been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Oh, it gives me chills again, remembering it. Note to self: Have I already missed seeing “Wicked” in Indianapolis? Find out!
Not only were the songs themselves enjoyable, but the concert itself flowed in a satisfying way. Wingler’s husband, Wade, told Jack and me that the “Holiday Memories” show was the first time Wingler had selected, organized, prepared, and performed a show all by herself, i.e. without a director or a producer. I am sure that her experiences working in a variety of theatres and as an opera singer helped her to build this solo show, but I like to think that her training and experience as a youth services librarian in her day job helped, too. There is nothing like putting together a preschool story time week after week to give a person a sense of pacing, balance, interactivity, and overall program arc.
Wingler’s concert for us included a jazzy song called “Santa Baby,” during which she carried her microphone out into the audience and flirted with lots of men before ending up with her husband. It also included a thought-provoking Christmas song that is, as Wingler said, not sung very often but should be, called “Some Children See Him.” For that song, she invited the handful of children in the audience to come sit with her on the stage.
For some of the songs, Wingler was accompanied by recorded music, but for most of the selections, pianist Margaret Humrichouser accompanied her live.
The MC, Jeff Baldwin, ended the program by reading aloud the famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” story, which is actually an exchange of letters between a young girl and the editor of the New York Post newspaper.
In some ways, November 22 feels too early to be thinking about Christmas. On the other hand, this benefit concert was a lovely way to begin the holiday season.
Jodi Wingler will sing with the Hendricks Symphonic Choir for its annual Christmas concert on December 5th and 7th. More information is available at www.HendricksSymphonic.com.
She is also rehearsing “La Fille du Regiment” with The Steele Project, the civic opera company in Indianapolis. That goes up January 9th, 10th & 11th. More information is available at www.thesteelecompany.com.
I can also tell you, if you promise not to tell any children, that Jodi and Wade Wingler will make the rounds as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, beginning with the tree lighting celebrations on the square in Danville.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com