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2014 Christmas Album Reviews


Pentatonix: “That’s Christmas to Me”pentatonix-christmas-album

Pentatonix never fails to deliver excellent a cappella music. Out of this collection of Christmas songs, “Mary, Did You Know” stands out as a beautiful and emotional version of this classic. As usual, Pentatonix did an amazing job of converting classic, well-known songs into their incredible trademark a cappella sound. They offer a variety of moods, from a solemn version of “Silent Night” to the more lighthearted “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” This album also brings a bonus for anyone obsessed with the movie “Frozen”: Pentatonix’s version of “Let It Go.” This album offers the typical Pentatonix energy and quality and will not disappoint any fans of this group.

 

Idina Menzel: “Holiday Wishes”idina

Menzel’s voice is beautiful as always and her range is often put on display throughout this album. The song that stood out the most to me was “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which she sings alongside the amazing Michael Bublé. The music video was even better, showing cute children dancing in fancy clothes. This album has a lot of the classic Christmas songs, but also brings some not-so-commonly heard songs like “What Are You Doing This Christmas Eve?” In addition, there is a good combination of serious and jolly songs in this album. I found myself bouncing along to “All I Want For Christmas is You,” and later enjoying a very traditional version of “Silent Night.”  Menzel also sings “When You Wish Upon a Star,” for anyone longing to feel that classic Disney magic during the holidays.

 

Darius Rucker: “Home For The Holidays”darius

This album was good, but not my favorite out of the ones I listened to. Rucker sings a lot of the jazzy-sounding classics, like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “White Christmas.” He also gives many of the other songs on this album a jazz spin, which I quite enjoyed. However, most of the album is made up of classic songs that have been done many times before and are not executed too differently or exceptionally this time around. This album, because it has so many classics done in a classic fashion, will not fail to get anyone in the Christmas spirit.

 

 

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Michael W. Smith and Friends: “The Spirit of Christmas”

I must say, I was quite impressed with Smith’s album. It is full of some very good orchestral music, including a fantastic beginning to the album with “The Miracle of Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Smith does not stick to only Christian Christmas songs, which brings a lot more variety to the album. He has a host of guest singers on the album, including Lady Antebellum on “White Christmas” and Carrie Underwood on “All is Well.” Smith also brings a diversity of genres to this album. Everything from orchestral music to the soft jazz of “White Christmas” and the more traditional takes on songs like “What Child is This,” which in spite of being one of the simpler songs on the album still brings in a beautiful choral introduction.

 

LeAnn Rimes: “One Christmas – Chapter 1”leeann

In contrast to Smith’s incredible instruments in “The Spirit of Christmas,” Rimes seems to focus a lot more on exaggerated vocals and a lot less on the instruments playing behind her. There are many of the classic Christmas songs on this album. I did enjoy her semi-a cappella version of “Carol of the Bells,” though it was very reminiscent of Pentatonix’s version of this song in their Christmas EP “PTXmas” from last year, and, in my opinion, not quite as good. I also enjoyed hearing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” which was very fun, and I did not hear it on any of the other albums I listened to.

 

 

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“Christmas at Downton Abbey”

This album definitely had a lot of classic music in it. For those who prefer older music, this is perfect. The songs are made to match the early 1900s European feel of the show, so most of the songs are like “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” It features very classic vocals as well. The album also features some instrumental pieces, including composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi’s “Christmas Concerto, 1st Movement.”

 

 

 

“Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever”cat

As can be expected, this album is rather silly and lighthearted. It has some of the goofier songs that are hard to find on some of the other albums such as “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth).” Featuring songs from the movie “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” there are also several parodies of well-known songs. For example, the Nutcracker Medley is instead called “Grumpcracker Medley.” There are also some lovely songs that I had never heard before like “It’s Hard To Be a Cat At Christmas.” Even the traditional songs are presented in a rather quirky style with nontraditional sounds. This album is not to be taken too seriously and is more amusing than anything.

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Review of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’


You have no idea how many times a fictional personae would have come in handy in my life.

Awkward social situations? Boring family get-togethers? Unfortunate work shifts? Sorry. I can’t make it. My, uh, cousin Blake needs help moving.

No, I don’t actually have a cousin Blake, but maybe if I had a little more gall I would put him to use.

This is exactly what happens in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” John Worthing, played by Phil Herbruck (sr), has a fake brother named Earnest and Algernon Moncrieff, played by Adam Fike (so), has a fake friend by the name of Bunbury. Both characters use their faux personas to get out of unpleasant or uncomfortable social situations.

The Indiana Wesleyan University Theatre Guild presented “The Importance of Being Earnest” in the Black Box theatre last weekend.

Upon entering the Black Box, I was impressed by the set design just as I have been with every show I’ve seen in the venue.

For this play, the set was “in the round,” meaning there is audience seating on all four sides of the stage. Sometimes performers’ backs are to you; sometimes they look right at you while they speak.

This made the body language of the performers infinitely more important.

For some scenes, you would hardly see the actors faces. Although you can still hear them speak, audiences are forced to listen in a different way than what they are used to in a typical set design.

Act I

The play began with the introduction of Algernon and his servant Lane, played by Gardy Darbouze (fr). Soon after, Worthing is introduced, as he and Algy share witty conversation about flirting wives, engagement, truth and Worthing’s various names being Earnest, Jack and John.

This portion of the first act was tense. Fike’s lines seemed rushed and lacked vocal variety, making the chemistry between him and Herbruck stale. Because the actors were tense, the audience was tense.  There were jokes delivered within the dialogue that were hardly acknowledged by the audience because the tense actors didn’t match the comedic script.

Worthing confesses to Algy that he plans to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, Algy’s niece. Soon after, Gwendolen, played by Justine Schaefer (fr), and her mother, Lady Bracknell, played by Emily Wyse (sr), enter the stage.

Wyse and Schaefer nailed their characters perfectly. Wyse played the perfect fear-inspiring mother.

Schaefer was magnificent. Her confidence as Gwendolen was enthralling.

Worthing proposes and is “accepted” by Gwendolen. Their chemistry on stage was impeccable.  Schaefer’s confidence and Herbruck’s nervous infatuation were wholly natural and believable.

Lady Bracknell intervened and shuts down plans for marriage until she knows more about Worthing. It is revealed that as a baby, Worthing was found in a handbag, causing him to not to know who his parents are or what his true identity is.

It wasn’t until a joke was made by Lady Bracknell about how Worthing was “careless” for losing both parents that the audience laughed freely. It was as if the entire Black Box relaxed with a sigh of relief.

Act II

The second act opens with Worthing’s charge, Cecily Cardew, played by Lauren Crane (so), and her governess, Miss Prism, played by Kylie Disher (so), studying German in the garden outside the Worthing country house. Both actresses give strong performances. Crane was cute and funny while Disher’s mature, scholastic demeanor made her a convincing governess.

Two more romantic relationships were introduced: one between Prism and Rev. Canon Chasuble, played by Paul Mishler (so), and the other between Cecily and Algy, who is now pretending to be Worthing’s brother, Earnest. The attraction between Cecily and Algy resulting in another engagement.

The rest of the act features catty confusion between Gwendolen and Cecily, as they both claim to be engaged to Earnest. It also consist of arguing between Worthing and Algy, who are determined to be christened under the name “Earnest” to please their respective fiancés.

You can imagine how entertaining it was to watch this play out on stage.

The way the women often kept a smiling face while scheming against each other was executed flawlessly by both Crane and Schaefer.

The lack of emotion from Fike came across as an even more ornery attitude in the argument between he and the flustered Herbruck.

However, whenever things got too tense, Braden Hunt (fr), playing the butler Merriman, offered comedic relief with his untimely entrances to the stage exclaiming, “Ahem!”

Act III

The last act was full of the making and breaking of wedding engagements. Lady Bracknell wouldn’t allow Worthing to marry her daughter. This led Worthing to not allow Algy marry Cecily, who he was in charge.

When Miss Prism arrived, Lady Bracknell began angrily questioning her about a certain infant who was lost in a handbag many years ago, leading to the shocking revelation of Worthing’s true identity.

The deception, irony and jokes of this play cannot be fully appreciated by reading a review.  They create a web so intricately spun that one must see it unravel before his or her own eyes.

Showings of “The Importance of Being Earnest” continue this weekend.

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