By James DeFrances
As Janis Siegel sang “the sun is shining, the grass is green, there’s never been quite a day in Beverly Hills LA” (the verse to Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”) it became apparent that the Manhattan Transfer singers are just as comfortable in LA as they are back home in New York.
Walt Disney Concert Hall lit up Tuesday night with the holiday spirit as audience members hummed and swayed along with the familiar tunes. Members of the legendary quartet were outfitted in green and red accessories with red Santa hats. The scene was set and with that their sleigh ride of musical wonderment was underway.
Of course things were a little different this time around since the recent and untimely passing of Tim Hauser, the group’s founder and patriarch. It was with joy and sadness that each remaining member of the group – Siegel, Cheryl Bentyne and Alan Paul – expressed their gratitude for all that Hauser had done and what a great friend he had been to them over the years.
His role for these holiday shows was covered seamlessly by the young vocalist and voice actor, Trist Curless. In Hauser’s honor the group dedicated “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Groovin’.” Felix Cavalieri of The Young Rascals had actually phoned Paul just days before the concert, asking him to perform the songs in homage and they were undoubtedly the high points of the evening.
A great rhythmic change of pace followed when they rolled out a lively and engaging salsa version of “Frosty the Snowman.” Most of the other holiday songs were sourced from the Transfer’s 1992 hit record The Christmas Album. which in and of itself is worthy of mention. Other tunes on the table this evening were “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
This wasn’t only a holiday show, though. A handful of non-holiday songs made their way to the set list. Most notably was Paul’s tender and moving rendition of “All The Way” (the Van Heusen and Cahn hit popularized by Frank Sinatra). Paul dedicated the song to Angela and Arielle his wife and daughter. The group followed the ballad with the energetic 1975 megahit “Operator,” a tune which they cannot leave out regardless of the theme of the show.
After a standing ovation and minutes of thunderous applause, the Transfer reappeared for an encore to perform “The Christmas Song.” Finishing with a vamping reprise of “Happy Holidays,” they took their final bows and wished everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
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