Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas at Rockefeller Center (NBC-TV, 2008)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The 2008 edition of Christmas at Rockefeller Center was a pretty perplexing program with various stars of yesterday and today, including Tony Bennett with the “Count Basie” orchestra (a ghost-band performance that’s particularly bizarre when you recall that Bennett made an album with the real Count Basie in 1960) and a capable pianist, Monty Alexander (he doesn’t sound like Basie — who does? — but he’s still an excellent accompanist and spark plug) doing “Winter Wonderland” and showing all the other singers in the program how it’s done. Jamie Foxx did a decent version of “The Christmas Song” on vocal and piano; Harry Connick, Jr. also did double duty at the mike and on the keys, though oddly his vocal on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was more ragged technically than Bennett’s even though he’s considerably younger.

The country vocal group Rascal Flatts did a decent version of “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby will own this song into eternity — though the versions by Charlie Parker, Clyde McPhatter and whoever did it on the Phil Spector Christmas album are worth having). Faith Hill did a pretty pretentious “Joy to the World” with the Morgan State University Choir (are you aware of a 51st U.S. state named “Morgan”? Didn’t think so). Rosie O’Donnell came on with a bunch of teenage dancers called her “Broadway Kids” for a genuinely amusing if incredibly dated novelty called “We Want to See Santa Do the Mambo.” Miley Cyrus did “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” capably enough — I think Brenda Lee was even younger when she recorded the original version than Ms. Cyrus is now — but Cyrus’s (female) backup singers were hotter-looking than she was (and I suspect they probably have better voices too!).

The Jonas Brothers turned up to do an original called “All I Want for Christmas Is the Girl of My Dreams” — and they were surprisingly good; though they’re hardly a ground-breaking band, they rock hard and don’t come up with the wimpy harmony-driven songs usually associated with the term “boy band” (and at least two of the Jonases appear to play guitar — at least they were holding guitars and miming playing them, though I don’t think they were plugged in and a professional three-piece backup band played behind them), and for their market niche they’re surprisingly rugged-looking, enough that if they auditioned for a Gay porn video they’d probably be turned down as “too butch.”

American Idol winner David Cook dared John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” and made it clear that he shared its anti-war sentiments. Beyoncé ex-Knowles did a pretty pretentious song called “Ave Maria” that took its first few notes from Schubert but was otherwise original, a rambling meditation on faith that Beyoncé (who’s a much better singer and actress than her reputation — remembering how good she was as the Diana Ross analogue in Dreamgirls I’m not at all upset that she’s playing Etta James in the new movie Cadillac Records) plodded through and tried her best to turn into something coherent. It closed with the official lighting of the Radio City Christmas tree and a number from the Rockettes called “Let Christmas Shine” that was likable.