Brandenburg Productions, Inc.
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The Cincinnati Post

Saturday December 23, 1995



Pops TV debut stunning holiday extravaganza


By Mary Ellyn Hutton

Post music writer


        Here’s one to answer while you are sitting around the television Christmas Eve watching the Cincinnati Pops special, “Cincinnati Pops Holiday,” which airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on PBS: Whose face is reflected on the bell of the trumpet at the end of “Deck the Halls?”

        You may recognize other faces too – perhaps even your own – on the 60-minute telecast, to be carried locally by channels 48 and 54.  The show marks the Pops’ debut on national television. 

        Patricia Corbett of Cincinnati’s Corbett Foundation, underwriter of the production, is seen singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” during the audience sing-along at the end.

       She and numerous other Cincinnatians, including local financier Carl Lindner, were caught by the cameras during three nights of shooting Dec. 8-10, when Music Hall was turned into one big tinselly TV studio.

        There are adults in Santa Claus hats and swaths of red and green.  And there are bundles of children, whose faces light up when Cincinnati Ballet designer Jay Depenbrock’s giant Christmas tree (of “Nutcracker” fame) appears behind the orchestra during “O Tannenbaum.”

       Particularly engaging is a shot of a young mother with her son resting on her shoulder during the final, hummed verse of “Silent Night.”

       Scheduled for the primest of prime time, the show boasts a brilliant lead, as a familiar voice shouts “Hey, where’s my baton?” It’s Erich Kunzel in cartoon guise.

        Clad in tails and red sneakers, “Mr. Pops” rummages through his office for his magic baton, is shot from a cannon and swings from a star, all to a snazzy fanfare written especially for the Pops by the late Henry Mancini.

        Guest artist is Mel Torme, who sings “The Christmas Song” (penned by him 50 years Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

        Also appearing are the Indiana University Singing Hoosiers, Cincinnati’s Dance Studio Cloggers in a jazzed-up version of “Jingle Bell Rock” and the Children’s Chorus from the School for Creative and Performing Arts, whose captivating Christmas medley includes walk-ons by a hip Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and a tummy-bouncing Frosty the Snowman.

        SCPA chorister Brandi Massey, 16, may have bought a ticket to stardom with her deeply felt gospel rendition of “Let There Be Peace.”

       It’s a quintessential family show, steeped in home-and-hearth values.  A Christmas card sequence, set to “The Christmas Waltz,” features shots of snow-swept Music Hall, lithographs of old Cincinnati and footage of Santa Claus and Kunzel bending over an electric train from the Cincinnati Gas and Electrics annual holiday exhibit.

        It has plenty of Kunzel pizzazz, too, including sprays of fireworks by Rozzi’s Famous Fireworks, snowflakes, dry ice (“Beauty and the Beast”) and a huge helping of his irresistible podium charm.

        Virtually all of the selections heard on the holiday concerts are included in the telecast.  Regrettably, a Hoosiers dance number has been omitted.

       The Pops players are caught at engaging moments: Trumpeter Marie Speziale “neighing” in “Sleigh Ride” and tweaking Rudolph’s nose, concertmaster Alexander Kerr soling sweetly in “White Christmas” and principal clarinetists Richard Hawley swinging to “Jingle Bell Rock.”

        The percussion section gets good play with its battery of sound effects, including toots, squeaks and clip-clops.

        Directed by Emmy award-winning Phillip Byrd of Brandenburg Productions with technical assistance by WCET-TV, the show is the first of a projected series of holiday-themed concerts by Kunzel and the Pops.  Also planned are a Halloween special in 1996 and a Valentine’s Day show in 1997.  Judging from the high quality and emotional appeal of this first effort, sequels as well as reruns should be in the works.