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The Star-Ledger

Monday, December 20, 1993





Toast of Christmas past returns on PBS

as Andy Williams hosts song-filled special




      Exactly how good were the good old days?  In Christmases past, the tube was loaded with multiple musical merriment – complete with dancing reindeer, crackling fireplaces, lots of artificial snow and wonderful singers like Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Dinah Shore running the entire repertoire of holiday ballads, spirituals and novelties – from “White Christmas” to “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

      Some of it was corny, some of it was cuddly, all of it was warm and friendly and holiday-like and provided welcome pauses during the frantic last-minute rush to get everything in order by the time Rudolph hit the roofs.

      Nowadays, we don’t have much of those oldies on television.  Most of these performers have hung up their tonsils by now or, alas, have passed away.   And only one or two of the new pop and hip hoppers do TV specials these nights (Neil Diamond was on last week and Harry Connick Jr. Comes along Christmas Eve).

      So what do we have tonight but the first holiday special appearance in more than a decade by the aforementioned Andy Williams, brought to us under the unlikely auspices of – are you ready? – Ozarks Public Television.  And the glad tidings are that nothing much has changed.

      Andy, although a little too thin in the face, is still wearing his sweaters and scarves, sill opening up with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” still welcoming the Osmond kids (ha!) among his guests and still dancing with the reindeer.  Hey, if it worked for him once, why fix it?

      Well, there is a problem or two. Williams, for starters, was never a robust belter-type.  He always got along just fine, thank you, with a light croon and lilt to his voice and a twinkle in his eye and unerring good taste in his material.  And his no strain, no pain, laid back approach is undoubtedly why, at 65, he’s still performing today, still appealing to the same audiences he had back 30 years ago, when he was among the pop singing elite.

      Most of those good people, of course, are not too acceptable by today’s television standards.  Because they have grown up gracefully with Andy, the majority of his fans are now in the fifty-sixty something generation... a group most frowned upon by the baby boomers who place the ads and program the telly nowadays.

     Perhaps, this is the reason why Williams, up until now, has not been doing his Christmas thing on the tube since the very early ‘80s. 

      Well, that’s too darn bad, because Andy’s show still provides a delightful interlude to the holiday hustle and whustle.  In the course of tonight’s 80 minutes, he and his guests sing EVERY Christmas song ever written (well, almost), complete with choreography and corny jokes and a dog that keeps running around the stage and, inevitably, the cornflakes snow that accompanies “White Christmas.”

      Because Andy never did have a powerful voice to begin with, his present-day warblings are not much altered, not too wobbly, usually on key.  And he even throws in a little soft shoe just to prove he still knows the basic steps.

      OK, so what songs do he and the Osmonds and country singer Lorrie Morgan perform in this PBS special (it was designed to be part of the winter begathon so it airs on Channel 13 from 9:40 p.m. to 11)?

     How about “Sleigh Ride,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “I Saw Mommy etc.,” “Happy Holidays,” “The Christmas Song,” “Jingle Bells,” “Silver Bells,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night,” and “O Holy Night”?

      And that’s just the overture.

      Seriously though, folks. If you liked Andy Williams in the ‘60s, you’ll like him just as much now.  And if you don’t know who he is, it won’t hurt you to find out.

      What we have here is an extremely pleasant, old fashioned, entertaining evening. So don’t sweat it.

      The point, of course, is that the quality of the good old days depended on the audiences as well as the entertainers.  If neither has changed, then the quality remains.