Nada Silent Night, Mary Poppins, and holiday madness

The problem with this time of the year is that there are all these holiday activities and events but NO TIME TO ENJOY THEM. I have a long list of things I’d like to do and see – holiday home tours, tree lightings, perhaps a dozen performances of The Nutcracker – but I am missing them as I instead opt to decorate my house, shop for gifts, send holiday cards, bake cookies, and all the rest of my seasonal duties.

I’ve been advocating lately to move all the holiday activities to January when people have more time to take advantage of them, but so far no one has listened. It’s kind of like my earlier push to get Thanksgiving and Christmas moved farther apart – a similarly unsuccessful campaign.

Anyway, I was planning for sure to go to the Holiday Promenade in Des Moines’ East Village (Nov. 19) and the Amana Colonies’ Prelude to Christmas (Dec. 3-5). I didn’t make it to either one. I am still hoping to see Des Moines’ Jolly Holiday Lights and go to Pella sometime before Christmas. I’d also like to go to performances of A Christmas Story, Utopia, and Triple Espresso – but I doubt I’ll find the time.

I did make it down to Des Moines twice this weekend, first to Nada Silent Night (on Friday, Dec. 3) and then to the touring production of Mary Poppins on Saturday. These performances could not have been more different, but I enjoyed them equally well.

First, the Nadas. This is a band that was born in Ames (by two Iowa State students, Jason Walsmith and Mike Butterworth) and grown in Des Moines. The group has been together more than 15 years and is popular throughout the Midwest (wildly so in Ames)…and yet I had only heard them in concert once before and own only one of their CDs. So call me a fan-come-lately, but I really do like this band a lot, now that I am paying attention and not just dismissing them as The Band that Played at People’s.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with Nada Silent Night – although I’d been aware of the event for many years. Would they be singing Christmas music? (Happily, the answer was no.) The show was held at Hoyt Sherman Place, not exactly known as a rock’n’roll venue.

But rocking it was. The place was filled with happy Nadas fans. I had the strange feeling that everyone in the audience knew each other.

The theme for the concert was A Nadas Christmas Carol. The band did three sets – music from the group’s past, then songs from the present, and, of course, the future.

The “past” set was made to look like People’s bar and grill in Ames, with the band (complete with their old drummer Tony Bohnenkamp) dressed in college-era grubbies and drinking from Mug Night mugs. In the “present,” the band returned in snappy suits; the stage sparked with holiday lights; and the music sounded like I remember – more sophisticated. The group’s third set, the “future,” began with children on the stage and the band dressed in white jumpsuits and sunglasses, the stage filled with white sparkling lights and fog machines.

By the end of the night, the audience was dancing in the aisles, and the security guys were letting them. It was a fantastic concert. I got to hear all my favorite songs from Almanac, and the experience made me want to go out and buy more of their music. Maybe next year I will dance in the aisles.

The next day I went to the Broadway touring performance of Mary Poppins at the Des Moines Civic Center. This is material I grew up with (I remember seeing the movie when it was released in 1964, and I sang along with the soundtrack LP as a child), and it’s a story my oldest daughter, Katie, always loved. I’d heard great things about the show, from its debut in London to the production in New York. Still, for some reason, I wasn’t terribly excited about going to the show on Saturday.

Well, I totally should have been. Because this is one amazing production. It has everything you’d ever want in musical theatre: great music, strong storyline, well-written characters – plus a fabulous set, good choreography, and flawless performances. And did I mention magic? The special effects were absolutely magical.

The show follows the plot of the Disney movie that showcased Julie Andrews as everyone’s favorite flying nanny and features all of the movie’s best songs. The stage show adds several new songs and mixes the others up a bit for a fresh, new sound. The Julie Andrews role is played in the touring production by Welsh actress Caroline Sheen. This woman was born to play Mary Poppins. She was spit-spot, for sure. Not only can she sing and act, she can also dance…and fly. (Who needs Spider-man when you have Mary Poppins?)

The whole thing was delightful, from the un-precocious but incredibly talented children to the chorus line of chimney sweeps. There was dancing on the ceiling, shooting stars, a big nanny smack-down scene, and fabulous stand-up-and-cheer choreography for the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious number. The set itself practically knocked my eyes out. I tend to be very critical when I go to a show like this, but I can’t think of one thing I’d change about this production. It was, as Mary herself might say, practically perfect in every way.

 

 

 

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