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Khris's Christmas Jazz swings into Mesa theater

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Mesa's Palms Theatre holiday hall is decked with jazz through December 21. Thanks largely to the arrangements of Khris Dodge, the sleigh-ful of Christmas songs in Swingin' Christmas joyously jingle all the way. Last night's opening promises Christmas celebrations will continue in full swing throughout the show's run.

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An evening reminiscent of the TV Christmas Classics that featured the likes of Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, the Andrew Sisters and Nat King Cole is what Tucson-based Lonely Street Productions set out to capture according to CEO/Producer Robert Shaw. "Passing the cocktail napkin of jotted show ideas" to jazz arranger and pianist extraordinaire Khris Dodge five months ago was the kingpin move in the venture according to Shaw.

With snowflake individuality, the instrumentalists perform a flurry of ensemble numbers that make old favorites glisten. Dodge's piano playing nearly outshines his arrangements. His flying keys and Rob Boone's trombone are especially bright in Let it Snow. Then the second act opens with his fresh jazz variations on familiar Nutcracker tunes and the whole band becomes a swinging classical wonderland. The crowd reverts back into arrangement-awe mode.

Mind you, the four vocalists who have come together from Broadway (Nicolette Hart), American Idol (Crystal Stark), Dollywood (Nick Gallardo), and Broadway National Tours (Sean Zimmerman) are no musical slouches. What dazzles in their voices here in Mesa, however, has everything to do with the original swinging arrangements, the ear-candy back up and the silver-bell-pairings from the band.

Crystal Stark glides into her element on a jazzy smooth Sleigh Ride that partners her with soaring trumpeter Rick Peron. Brian Hicks' saxophone purrs along to Nicolette Hart's What Are You Doing Christmas Eve as the two create the warmth of a slow burning yule log. The whole holiday-riffing band plays straight man to Nick Gallardo's Mele Kalikimaka shtick. Eventually, even the chuckling audience joins in.

The vocal Christmas cool award of the evening goes to Nicolette Hart and Sean Zimmerman when their rich Baby It's Cold Outside melts into the audience.

Beneath a cozy blanket of nostalgia, the Swingin' Christmas show plays almost nightly around the Valley and in Tucson. The Palms performances are December 14-15, 18 and 21.

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