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Saginaw Stars Shine in Symphony Holiday Concert

Reviewer: Lisa Purchase

Venue: The Temple Theatre

The Saginaw Bay Symphony’s holiday performance featured Todd Michael Hall, Amy Petty, and Sharrie Williams at the historic Temple Theatre in downtown Saginaw on December 12, 2023

It was another triumphant night downtown as a festive crowd descended on the Temple Theater for the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra’s “Holiday Superstars”. The marquee glowed with the faces of three local rockstars, and they were a powerful draw to get people out and about in their holiday finery on this Tuesday evening. This was easily the most well-attended SBSO concert since before the pandemic, and the crowded lobby was buzzing with people greeting acquaintances and anticipating the show ahead. There is something very heady about getting all dressed up for an evening of high art in “The Showplace of Northeastern Michigan”, arriving to see and be seen. Donning our gay apparel, as it were, to attend this kick-off to Christmas.

The concert began with some well done holiday classics, and then soloist Amy Petty took center stage – in glorious gold chiffon – and sang the pants off Ave Maria. Her voice was powerful but beautiful, and combined perfectly with the orchestra behind her.

Her performance was followed by the delightfully complex, quirky, and cacophonous “Christmas Festival Overture: Ukranian Noel”, a piece that managed to be at once familiar and strange. Perhaps the best kind of music, that snags your attention instead of letting you get too comfortable.

Todd Michael Hall appeared next to do his own “I Wish Every Day Were Christmas”, backed by the SBSO’s Catherine McMichael’s arrangement for symphony orchestra. Sporting leather pants and jacket, he crooned this tender waltz creating a tender moment of connection with the rapt audience.

A classic Christmas singalong with the orchestra led into intermission, and another chance to meet and greet friends in this very festive atmosphere.

In the second half, the soloists really brought their Saginaw star power. Amy Petty returned with her guitar to play her own “Sycamore Tree”, derived from the Christmas classic “I Saw Three Ships”. Her guitar was beautifully backed by Acting Concertmaster Sonia Lee and the violin section, and the two types of stringed instruments made a lovely duet under Amy’s voice. Amy added the penny-whistle to the instrumental voices, bringing a simple old-world quality to the number.

Then Sharrie Williams took the stage, a queen in her red sequined gown. She and the orchestra strolled together through “Wonderland of Snow”, set in a gentle snowstorm projected on the stage. Amy Petty and Todd Michael Hall reappeared for a pair of retro rock classic duets: Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” and Tina Turner’s “The Best”, both capably arranged for orchestra by Saginaw’s own Nathan Bieber. Sharrie returned to really shine in Pharrell Williams “Happy”. She had the entire audience on their feet, clapping along to this danceable bop. All three soloists combined to bring the house down with Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. The crowd cheered as the guitar and flute intro rose from the orchestra, and each soloist carried parts of this vintage rock anthem.

All three of these Saginaw stars brought their A-game and wowed the audience with their gorgeous voices and powerful presence. Kudos to Maestro Fakhouri and the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra for bringing them together with the orchestra. Each soloist choose their own pieces, and two talented locals provided new orchestral arrangements. I was already a fan of Todd Michael Hall and Sharrie Williams and their music, but I was not previously familiar with Amy Petty’s music. Guess who I’m going to start following in the new year. 

There was a little girl sitting in the row ahead of me, maybe six or seven years old. She had on a velvety red dress with white furry cuffs, and a sparkly Christmas bow in her hair. She seemed interested and asked her mom quiet questions once in a while, daintily snacked on handfuls of tiny nonpareils, and eventually fell drifted off to sleep as the holiday music floated down around her. I was thrilled to see a child at the concert … this is a child being exposed to classical music, growing up comfortable at a symphony concert in a beautiful venue, and learning what a joy the communal experience of art can be. Great job, mom in the fourth row! (Seeing them brought to mind SBSO concerts with my own three kids in attendance (sometimes a good idea, sometimes a bad idea, but always interesting!).

It pleases this reviewer to note that the SBSO promotes accessibility by generously donating tickets to Major Chords for Minors, SVRC Industries, STARS, Heart of the City, Commission on Aging, and the Mustard Seed Shelter. While I very much enjoy running into people I know at the symphony, I really want to run into more people I DON’T already know there. I want to see more young people, more people of color, more economically challenged people … concerts like this should include everyone, and it is wonderful to see this organization taking steps in that direction. Thanks also to the sponsors who help provide the funds to maintain this excellent orchestra and make it possible for them to provide some seats free of charge for these groups.

Catch the SBSO’s next concert February 3rd for Tchaikovsky’s Masterpieces. Tickets available at saginawbayorchestra.com.

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