Anticipation from the packed audience at the Swingin’ Christmas Proms was such that, at the beginning of the show, a raised hand from one of the clowns hushed the crowd immediately. And then it all got underway with a medley of Carol of the Bells coupled with God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen and then into Let it Snow, where the tremendous Mellowtone Five Singers survived the flying fake snow (from the clowns) before retreating into the background to sing backing vocals.
Rachael Beck entered and quickly owned the stage with confidence, class and Aussie sassiness and looking fabulous (and her outfits were star worthy stunning throughout). The elongated phrases of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas allowed her to show her vocal chops and the quality of the song; and no doubt had her feeling that she was back in her musical theatre home territory. And she certainly had us feeling that we were all happy to be here in Adelaide for Christmas.
Every set of vocal chords in the house were vibrating like a Christmas trifle in a disco, immediately after the opening notes of Hark the Herald Angels Sing; some of the audience, totally at one with the arrangement, even breaking into descants before the end of the carol. This certainly was no Silent Night! (and there were some top voices in the row behind me).
As the echoes from the sing-along died down The Christmas Song, recorded famously by Nat King Cole and written by Robert Wells with (The Velvet Fog) Mel Torme, struck up. Most of the contemporary Christmas songs performed on the night were written in the 1940s and the majority of the older audience would remember the original hit versions by the crooners of the day.
We were introduced to Michael Falzon via his very nice work on Bing Crosby’s White Christmas. And then Rachael returned to the stage with an amusing (Aussie Christmas day) take on My Favourite Things, from The Sound of Music. There were echoes of Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams in Michael’s super slick performance of I’m Feeling Good, backed brilliantly by Ding Productions’ quartet of plumed dancers. A montage of Little Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth gave Rachael and Michael the chance to blend their voices and the blend worked beautifully.
Although the programme was made up mainly of typical Christmas fare, the sing along loving crowd was treated to some splendid arrangements including Ravel’s Bolero, by David Polain, slightly modified and used as the rhythm underpinning O Christmas Tree. Talented conductor, and extra savvy MC, Timothy Sexton arranged many others very well. Rachael sang Night of Silence while The Mellowtone’s crooned Silent Night in the background.
The second half included an instrumental version of Night and Day, Rachael’s take on Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Michael doing the Cole Porter composition, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, which suited his voice perfectly. A swingin’ version of Sleigh Ride and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer bought cheers and giggles and lots of kooky antics from the antlered visitor on stage. Later, everyone joined in with fervour and great volume with the phrase five gold rings! during Rachel and Michael’s duet of The Twelve Days of Christmas. The evening ended with that staple that has closed many a school concert over the years We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
Incredible work by The Adelaide Art Orchestra, Rachael Beck’s amazing voice and presence, Michael’s solid vocal contribution, excellent arrangements, beautiful lighting, stylish Christmas design by Kathryn Sproul, and packaged tightly by Director Catherine Fitzgerald – Proms was a massive winner with audiences. (And apparently, tickets are already going fast for next year).