American Big Band brings holiday spirit to Kent State Tuscarawas


Photo courtesy of Arts Management Associates.

Mariam Makatsaria

Touring show American Big Band performed holiday hits Saturday evening at Kent State Tuscarawas Performing Arts Center in their theatrically staged, costumed and choreographed Christmas production “Home for the Holidays.” A 12-piece band took to the stage along with seven singers and dancers at 7:30 p.m.

“It is so much fun,” said Mia Ernst, a dancer and singer in the show. “It’s different from any of the tours I’ve done with this company before because we have a really great big band backing us up. It surely features some of the best musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.”

Mike Morelli, general manager of the Performing Arts Center at Kent State Tuscarawas, said the Tuscarawas community members have been asking for Big Band for the last three years.

“They are such an accomplished entertaining group, and they stood out from many of the other Christmas shows that we looked at,” Morelli said.

Kyle Henry was the master of ceremonies in the show that drew a crowd of about 1,100 people.

The show “covers all of the aspects of the holiday season for everyone,” said Henry, who also danced and sang with the rest of the cast. “There are lots of the fun holiday songs that are redone for a band orchestra.”

The production featured songs spanning several genres and decades, from Bing Crosby to Michael Buble’s Christmas hits. The cast performed a medley of classic Christmas favorites with a modern twist, as well as smooth bluesy jazz arrangements of popular hits.

“There are some really cool arrangements,” Ernst said. “Even for the people who might not be that excited about Christmas music, it’s a really exciting upbeat, feel-good show.”

Ernst, who performed “Santa Baby” as one of her solos, said that she enjoyed stepping out and playing a larger-than-life character. The crowd laughed as she flirtatiously walked down to the audience, singing the 1953 Christmas tune in a whispery, sultry voice.

“It’s very much an ensemble show, though we each have solos here and there, and duets and trios, but it’s really a group effort,” Ernst said.

While the singers changed costumes, the band entertained the audience with their instrumental renditions of “The Christmas Waltz” and “Yuletide Piano.” The ensemble later performed an a cappella version of “Christmas Time Is Here” from the 1965 television special “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

“I’m just happy to be up there singing with great singers that have really good ears and who do a lot of intricate harmonies,” Ernst said.

Even though the show featured upbeat music most of the time, some slower tunes showcased the singers’ powerful vocals. The ensemble’s rendition of the 1847 Christmas carol “O Holy Night” elicited a lot of enthusiastic whistles and cheers from the audience.

“It’s a really festive atmosphere from top to bottom,” Henry said. “It’s just a lot of fun, but of course there are some warm, more touching moments in the show that focuses on the family aspect of the season.”

The ensemble’s finale performance turned out to be the show’s most-applauded portion. As their voices rose in harmony for the final note of “Angel Medley,” which brought the show to conclusion, the crowd broke into a rapturous applause.

“I just really love bringing this type of music to the audience,” Henry said. “I think it brings a kind of nostalgic element, and I just love the audience’s reactions.”

After the show, the cast greeted and talked with the crowd in the lobby.

“We’re trying to be a really banging group up there with a really great band,” Ernst said. “We want to entertain everyone and we hope they have as good of a time as we are because that’s what it’s all about.”

Contact Mariam Makatsaria at [email protected].