CHEER: Hawaii Performing Arts Festival’s “Home for the Holidays”

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“Cheer” means so many things: brightening people’s spirits, joy, and jollity, lifting a glass in a toast, and applause for something well done.  Home for the Holidays checked all those boxes.

This holiday season, it’s been a slog to feel the usual anticipation; so many of us are giving up cherished traditions, or not gathering with those we love. So HPAF’s concert was a needed lift to our hearts.

We visited the music rooms of some of our favorite HPAF faculty and alumni, and not only got to hear their performances but met their families and found out what makes their Christmases bright.

Musical theater soprano Ashley Lambert got us in a fun mood with some lively tunes, “Let It Snow,” which it occasionally does at the top of Mauna Kea (and locals rush up to bring snow down in their pick-ups to build a snowman at the bottom), “Mele Kalikimaka,” the Hawaiian favorite that has become a staple all over the US, and a comedic children’s song written by Artistic Director Val Underwood’s brother, Ray Underwood, “32 Hooves.” 

Ronny Michael Greenberg   Photo: Anna Wu

For us, classical music buffs, pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg gave us Liszt’s “La Campenella” (The Little Bell). It has a simple melody in G sharp minor, but it wouldn’t be Liszt if it didn’t develop into showy technical complexity, with the bell tinkling sweetly all the while in the top register. This was my favorite!  The other pianist in the program, Val Underwood, took the international route, with (among others) the French 15th-century carol, “Noel Nouvelet” which aptly described this concert: “Noel chanton ici,” “we sing Christmas here.”

The artists were joined in song by family members, including Peabody Southwell’s tiny son (charmingly resisting the demand to be jolly at Christmas!) Rachel Copeland’s partner Scott Skiba – the reigning first couple with their important roles at HPAF – and daughter had us dreaming of a harmonious white Christmas.

And we were not to forget that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Nyla Watson’s strong soprano lit up “O Come All Ye Faithful,” calling us back to faith. And tenor William Christensen, not at home but at the altar in front of a stained-glass window, sang “O Holy Night” with both great emotion and restraint.

Last but never least, Executive Director Justin John Moniz demonstrated his theater skills as well as his perfectly controlled tenor. He didn’t announce what he was going to sing; the songs flowed seamlessly from what he was saying, just the way songs do in musical theater. Ending with “My Favorite Things,” I thought about one of my own favorites things – the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival.

The main thing I learned from this concert is:  Santa loves corny jokes!  And all I wish for Christmas is that HPAF has a fantastic 2021 season.  See you all there!

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