Sunday, October 31, 1999


Pops' show for holiday slick, vibrant

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The nation will be treated to a heaping plate of Tristate talent this Thanksgiving, when the Cincinnati Pops airs its fifth PBS-TV special, A Family Thanksgiving.

        Production trucks on Central Parkway, $100,000 worth of TV lights and a boom over Music Hall's stage meant the Pops was taping the fifth of Erich Kunzel's planned “six-pack” of TV shows Friday night.

        The house was packed (3,150) — and the stage was, too, with a bounty of singers, dancers, musicians and actors. Who else but Mr. Kunzel could put together a slick show with a kickline of chefs, dancing vegetables and University of Cincinnati cheerleaders?

        Headlined by vocalists Sandi Patty and John Schneider with narrator Richard Thomas, this show rolled by without a hitch — well, almost. When Mr. Schneider flubbed his words, there were no retakes. (It was being taped again Saturday.)

        Mr. Kunzel and his producer Phillip Byrd have it down to a science. The May Festival Chorus, which sang through the entire evening, sat behind the Pops. A rail fence, decorated with flowers and pumpkins, provided a backdrop for the soloists. The scene was lighted beautifully by Randy Nordstrom.

        In her Cincinnati Pops debut, Ms. Patty, an Indiana native, was a radiant soloist. The five-time Grammy winner and mother of eight entered to an upbeat “I Hear a Song” and segued seamlessly into “Over the Rainbow.”

        Her voice was warm and flexible, and she had a stylish way with words. She shone in tunes such as “How Great Thou Art” and an a cappella “Amazing Grace,” singing with the genuine emotion and pinpoint intonation that have made her a star in the contemporary Christian arena.

        A highlight of the first half was The First Thanksgiving, narrated by Mr. Thomas. An actor whose roles have traversed from John-Boy Walton to Shakespeare, Mr. Thomas was an engaging storyteller. The Thanksgiving setting featured drama students from School for Creative and Performing Arts, who joined Ms. Patty as a Pilgrim family.

        Between the narrative, the May Festival Chorus added rich textures in “Make Our Garden Grow” from Bernstein's Candide; Cincinnati Ballet principal dancers Anna Reznik and Alexei Kremnev were an elegant pair in “The Promise of Living.”

        Cincinnati Ballet members also provided stunning dancing in “Simple Gifts,” choreographed with charm by Victoria Morgan. The springlike dance with full-skirted women and shirt-sleeved men was ebullient, old-fashioned and athletic.

        Mr. Schneider, who is most known as Bo Duke from TV's Dukes of Hazzard, sang three numbers from Will Rogers Follies, including “Give a Man Enough Rope” featuring lasso tricks. He shone most, though, in Neil Diamond's “America.”

        In the cute-as-punch department, there was the School of Cincinnati Ballet dancing a “Turkey Trot,” the SCPA Children's Choir, and those electric Cincinnati Studio Cloggers.

        It ended with an audience sing-along. All that's left now is to squeeze it into 56 minutes for TV.

        The Pops repeats at 8 p.m. today 381-3300.


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