Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chamber Singers, Norm Lewis, Dan Strange and Ashley Liberty usher in the holidays at Am Fam - By Michelle Libby

In a sold out concert, the Windham Chambers Singers brought in the holiday season with joyous music and some Christmas fun. Guest stars were Tony-nominated Norm Lewis, who is known for his Broadway run in “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” and now plays Senator Edison Davis on the ABC television show “Scandal”, and regulars Windham graduate pianist Daniel Strange and his talented violinist, wife Ashley Liberty. Channel 13s Kim Block acted as master-of-ceremony. 

The program was a blend of holiday favorites (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) and chamber singers standards like “Caledonia” and “O Holy Night.”

The evening opened with the chamber singers performing “Puer Natus” on a darkened stage, lit only with Christmas lights. 

Ashley Liberty took the stage to play a few songs on her violin bringing many in the audience to tears with her beautiful interpretation of the music as her fingers flew over the strings. She also was accompanied by her husband, Dan Strange on the piano. Together they preformed “Lullaby”, a song they co-wrote for their 15-month-old son, Harrison. Strange called it some of the most honest work he has done. 

“When I come back, I suddenly feel like a child again. All that goes into the performance,” said Strange. “I’d keep doing this for 25 more years.” 

Strange also performed with the chamber singers as they sand “An American Family Holiday”, a song he wrote. 

Lauren Doering was the featured soloist from the chamber singers in the first half of the show.
Norm Lewis entertained the packed house with “Before the Parade” a song he uses when he auditions, he told the audience. He had to make life choices, he said. He studied business in college and went into the advertising field. “I always had my foot in the musical theater,” he said. 

David and Sandra Daigle of Windham were given tickets to the concert as a gift. Although they hadn’t attended an Am Fam concert in a few years, they have followed the singers all along. “It’s always awesome,” David said. 

After intermission and costume changes, the chamber singers returned to the stage to sing two songs, one featuring Jennifer Bernier as a soloist. 

Norm Lewis made “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” a crowd pleaser by leaving the stage and walking through the audience posing for pictures, talking to the “cheap seats” and making sure one photographer got his “good side” all the while never missing a beat. 

Kim Block was slated to read a children’s book, which she does every year, however, in a surprise move, Block and chamber singer director Richard Nickerson sang “We Need a Little Christmas” to the delighted crowd instead. 

Norm Lewis returned to the stage to sing “We Live on Borrowed Time.” With the deaths of Paul Walker and Nelson Mandela, we as a society need to “give flowers while they’re still here, before you can’t,” Lewis said. “Tell them you love them. Give them praise.” 

One of the highlights of the evening was a rendition of “Santa Went Down to Georgia” with new lyrics and arrangement by Strange and Liberty. The song had the audience clapping and laughing along with the original lyrics. 

Strange and Liberty are working on a new CD of all original work together. There is no release information available at this time. They are also working on continuing to raise Harrison, Strange said. 

“I love (American Family Holiday). I look for it every year. It really gets you in the mood,” said Donna O’Brien of Westbrook. 

The concert has become Windham’s answer to the Magic of Christmas for the PSO. No holiday is complete without seeing the Windham Chamber Singers and guests. Watch for tickets for next year’s concert to go on sale, they are bound to sell out again.

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