A Swingin’ Christmas
The holiday Music of Tony Bennett
Created by David Grapes & Todd Olson
Arrangements by Vince di Mura
From the team that created My Way and I Left My Heart comes a jazzy new holiday revue, A SWINGIN’ CHRISTMAS – a tribute to the season by the man Sinatra called “the greatest singer in the world,” Tony Bennett. Audiences will fall in love with the songs of the season intermingled with his top-40 hits, torch songs, film scores, all the way to his now infamous Duets series, which introduced him to a whole new generation of listeners.
A SWINGIN’ CHRISTMAS promises to be an unforgettable journey through snowy New York City and features 18 classic holiday tunes plus the standards that made Bennett famous, like “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,”“With Plenty of Money and You,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “I Wanna Be Around,” “The Good Life,” “Rags To Riches,” and his signature “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.”
At a time of year when theatregoers think they have seen it all, A SWINGIN’ CHRISTMAS promises to be that new favorite that rings in the holiday season with classics from the Great American Songbook!
Man #1 First Tenor
Man #2 First Tenor
Woman #1 Alto to Soprano
Woman #2 Soprano
Notes from the Creators
The Setting -The setting should be “Bennett-esque,” with a strong holiday theme. The setting for the world premiere consisted of 4 main playing areas, down left was a fireplace and Christmas tree with large wrapped packages on which the cast could sit, at center there was a raised bandstand area with 4 period microphones, just right of center was an area at the piano complete with a stool, and finally down right there was a playing area that contained two additional large wrapped packages. The Farmers Alley Theatre production put the musicians at the center of the stage (which the creators both believe is essential), so that the singers could easily move in and around them freely. This allowed for optimum interaction between singers and accompanist, singers and drummer, singers and bass player. Make certain that your scenic design provides sufficient space for the dance numbers.
Costumes – You only ever see Bennett in one of two things: a tux or a suit. In the premiere, the men wore tuxes with holiday accessories for Act 1 and velvet suit jackets in green and red for Act 2. The women wore knee length flirty Christmas dresses in Act 1 and sequined evening gowns in Act 2. All of the costumes should allow for movement and dance.
Stage Properties – A black or white baby grand piano
Four retro (Shure) 50’s microphone on stands center stage
Four stools upstage
A stool at the piano
Some holiday mugs with water
Working fireplace with a decorated mantle
Decorated Christmas tree with lights
Small wrapped packages under the Christmas tree
4 Christmas stockings with the cast names hung from the mantle
4 dance canes (painted as red and white candy canes)
Several large, wrapped packages that they actors can use as seating
4 music folders used for caroling
4 battery powered candles for “Silent Night”
Sound – Sound is THE MOST IMPORTANT TECHNICAL ELEMENT of I LEFT MY HEART. The purity of the human voice mattered to Bennett and it will matter to your audiences. The cast sings 20+ vocal selections and it is vital that we hear the words and phrasing clearly without having to strain our ears. Bennett was a true master in the art of using a microphone in performance; have you ever seen a picture of him in performance NOT using a handheld mic? Therefore, like MY WAY and I LEFT MY HEART, A SWINGIN’ CHRISTMAS is also intended to be performed using microphones as sound reinforcement. Depending on the size of your theatre, you may also want to reinforce the piano or stand-up bass. Our recommendation is to start sound rehearsals as soon as possible and locate the best sound engineer you can find to mix the show during each performance.
Lighting – The design should be romantic, sensual and moody. The production lends itself easily to the use of dramatic specials, gobos and break-up patterns. We prefer a white cyc in the background, which can be changed to various saturated colors. All lighting should be more theatrical than realistic and evoke mood rather than place. In the original productions their were windows upstage and we made it snow several times during the show.
Pianist/Musical Director – This will perhaps the most important hiring decision to be made for the production. This person controls almost everything about the production (tempo, style, energy, etc.). The perfect player would be an EXCELLENT sight reader, who not only has played musical theatre productions, but also has strong jazz chops. Much of the music is orchestrated in a jazz grammar. In many ways, this person becomes the fifth character in the production, so look for a great musician who also has an interesting stage personality. He/she also must be proficient at understanding and teaching complex vocal jazz harmonies to the cast as there is A LOT OF FOUR PART HARMONY contained in the score. In the premiere at Farmers Alley Theatre this musician also served as Musical Director and conducted the stand-up bass player, and drummer, from the piano during performance.
Tony Bennett is not just a terrific singer, but an astoundingly great musician as well. His vocal range, sense of rhythm and time, and amazing instinct as a re-creative artist, is beyond compare. Though not a composer himself, his recording legacy as an interpreter of the American Popular Songbook is both original and wonderfully respectful to the composer’s intentions. It is this standard that I tried to hold to and defend as I constructed the arrangements and transcriptions for this show.
The vocal parts reference Bennett’s style and his rhythmic and melodic treatment of the music he sings. He gives little stress to the downbeat and always phrases as though bar lines did not exist.
The rhythm section pays a debt to Ralph Sharon (Bennett’s Musical Director) and his trio; though the piano part itself is a bit more original to my own style of comping and counter voice leading. Most importantly, the score has the musical flavors of Count Basie and Bill Evans. For this reason, it is imperative that musical directors become familiar with Bennett’s jazz collaborations via the recordings. The style and traditions of all the wonderful pianists he worked with are honored here.
These arrangements are constructed for jazz musicians for the most part. That does present a dilemma since “A Swinging Christmas” is being offered as a work for the theatre and will be confronted by theatre musicians who may not be adept at jazz practice. In the interest of providing producers with all the tools needed for the successful production of our work, we have created a version of the show which is realized in standard notation as well as one for those musicians who are trained in jazz as a discipline.
Which leads me to the most important issue of all. We created a show that ultimately respects Mr. Bennett and have provided a score, which is authentic and complete to his vision, talent and sublime musicality.
Thank you, Mr. Bennett for all the years of lovingly created music.
Vince diMura – Arranger for A Swingin’ Christmas
A Swingin’ Christmas – Musical Numbers
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
This Could be the Start of Something Big
O Christmas Tree
Toyland Deck the Halls
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
THE BENNETT STANDARDS
Fly Me to the Moon
Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Everyday I Have the Blues
Lullaby of Broadway
CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK
Christmas in Herald Square
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
The Best is yet to Come
With Plenty of Money and You
Sing You Sinners
It Don’t Mean a Thing
SONGS BY THE FIRE
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
The Good Life
Make Someone Happy
Because of You Let the Good Times Roll
CHRISTMAS – PART 2
Hark the Herald Angels Sing A Child is Born
Silver Bells Winter Wonderland
LET’S SWING HOME
I Wanna Be Around I Can’t Give You Anything but Love
Rags to Riches
I’ll Be Home for Christmas Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
ENCORE AND BOWS
I Left My Heart in San Francisco
Review: Joy, Merriment & Family A Swingin’ Christmas: The Holiday Music of Tony Bennett. By Martin Heinritz for the Western Michigan Entertainment Guide
The legendary American pop and jazz singer Tony Bennett’s shimmering career has spanned 8 decades, producing 61 studio albums, 11 live albums, 33 compilation albums, and 83 singles; selling more than 50 million records worldwide; and winning 20 Grammy Awards as well as the love and admiration of legions of fellow artists, friends, and fans.
Four of his albums are dedicated to holiday songs and his trademark jazzy pop style has lent itself beautifully to the traditional and contemporary songs that make up many a festive playlist dedicated to all things merry and bright.
And this year’s holiday show at Farmers Alley Theatre in Kalamazoo is a tribute to Bennett. “A Swingin’ Christmas: The Holiday Music of Tony Bennett” capitalizes on his longevity, discography, personality, and remarkable ability to create holiday cheer with his music in this world premiere that opened Friday night. Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson with terrific arrangements by Vince di Mura, “A Swingin’ Christmas” makes for a sweet, cozy, delightfully festive night of live musical performance in the spirit of joy and merriment.
A holiday-themed, cabaret-style show wherein patrons are served cheesecake, coffee, and cocktails is a wonderful tradition at Farmers Alley this time of year, and “A Swinging Christmas” will undoubtedly be a hot ticket.
The two-hour performance centers on the songs of Tony Bennett performed by two men and two women who sing, dance, and share stories about Bennett, accompanied by a fabulous jazz trio (led by musical director Nicholas Mueller on piano) that’s so good they alone would be worth seeing.
The 32 numbers cover just about every beloved Christmas song of the 20th Century as well as iconic standards made famous by Bennett, from “Fly Me to the Moon” to “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” performed as solos, duets, and grand harmonies from the entire cast.
Dressed in gowns and tuxes with a costume change after intermission, Paul Castree, Michelle Duffy, Missy Karle, and Tony Perry exude warmth and complement each other beautifully. Karle really shines in “A Child is Born”; she and Michelle Duffy are superb together in “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”; Duffy is also brilliant with Tony Perry in “Every Day I Have the Blues,” and Perry is all around exceptional but especially in “Fly Me to the Moon”; and Paul Castree has terrific energy, is marvelous with Karle in “Because of You” and is really in the moment and natural as a dancer, with excellent choreography from Jeremy Blair.
They sing and dance in tribute to Bennett, never attempting to imitate his vocal stylings, and this an excellent choice, by design. “Our ultimate goal was to create a holiday themed musical that would take our audiences deeper into the ‘essence’ of Tony Bennett the man, the singer, and the creative artist, while never making a direct attempt to impersonate Bennett himself,” wrote co-creator and director of the show, David Grapes, in the program.
Indeed, this production succeeds in all the ways it sets out to do. “I love the holiday season—it’s just a very special time of the year where we go out of our way to show our family and friends how much we appreciate having them in our lives. When I hear holiday music playing on the radio or in stores and restaurants, it’s a lift to my spirits,” is a direct quote from Bennett shared from the stage in between songs, and it captures Bennett’s spirit as well as the essence of this show—a most joyful way to celebrate the holiday season.
David Grapes II
David is an Emeritus Professor of Theatre at the University of Northern Colorado, where he served as the Founding Director of the School of Theatre Arts and Dance and Producing Artistic Director for The Little Theatre of the Rockies for 15 years. David is also an award-winning director, actor, drama critic and playwright, and has provided administrative and artistic leadership for a wide variety of theatrical institutions including two professional regional (LORT) theatre companies. An active member of SDC, DGA and AEA his work as a stage director (250+ productions) and actor has been seen at major regional theatres across the United States. As a DGA member, David is the creator or co-creator of ten original musical revues, six plays, a screenplay, and numerous adaptations (www.summerwindproductions.com), which have enjoyed over 500 productions worldwide. David holds a BA from Glenville State University (Alumnus of the Year 2010) and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 2021, he was inducted into The American Theatre College of Fellows at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Todd is the Artistic Director for the Davidson Community Players in Charlotte, NC. His experience includes leading The Historic Palace Theatre, The Chattanooga Theatre Centre, and the American Stage Theatre in St. Petersburg, FL. He was the 2013 recipient of the Florida Professional Theatre Association’s Richard G. Fallon Award for “Excellence in Professional Theatre.” Todd has directed over 150 plays, musicals, and operas, including My Way (which he co-created) at the Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and I Left My Heart (also co-created) at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. As a playwright, his works include Casa Blue, the last moments in the life of Frida Kahlo, and Joe Corso Re-Enters from the Wings, which won the 2012 Holland New Voices Playwright Award at the Great Plains Theatre Conference and Althea & Angela. Todd received his M.F.A. from The University of North Carolina and is a graduate from the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard. He was a teaching fellow at Harvard, and has taught classes at Vanderbilt, Boston University, University of North Carolina, and the University of South Florida.
Vince di Mura
Vince is a composer, arranger, jazz pianist and musical director; appearing on concert stages and theatres throughout North America, Canada, Europe and Latin America. He is currently the Resident Musical Director and Composer for the Lewis Center of the Arts at Princeton University, where he has served since 1987. He has conducted theatre seasons and fulfilled numerous compositional commissions at theatre across the U.S. His arrangements for Summerwind Productions include “My Way,” “Christmas My Way,” “Simply Simone” and “I Left My Heart.” Mr. di Mura is also the author and curator of “A Conversation with the Blues:” A 14 part web instructional series on improvisation through the Blues, Produced by Soundfly Inc. Vince has 6 CDs on the market including his most recent release, “Meditations on the Sacred Heart.” All of which are available at CDBaby.com and any number of internet outlets.
PROGRAM CREDITS FOR TITLE PAGE
Created by David Grapes and Todd Olson
Original piano/vocal arrangements by Vince di Mura
Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
A Swingin’ Christmas – Audio – Coming Soon
A Swingin’ Christmas – Video Clips
Summerwind Productions, LLC – Box 430, Windsor, CO 80528 Email: Summerwindprod@hotmail.com