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Happy to Be Here: Joyful music, every day


Christmas music was especially joyful for me this year. I didn’t tire of it through days of variations.

The music began Dec. 4, at the New Hope Historical Society’s Parry Mansion. Bob Egan was at the piano for the Spirited Tea, where members gathered ‘round to sing the same old favorites from “White Christmas” to “Santa Baby.”

Christmas music was in full swing by Dec. 22 at the 1740 House on the Delaware in Lumberville. Michael Arenello and his Jazz Age Band led dinner guests in a carol singalong. A young man named Ryir Norris lent his voice to ‘Oh Holy Night!” and stood at the microphone with Arenello, and we all sang out — loud enough for the river to carry our voices to the ocean.

On the morning of Dec. 24, as I drove from shop to shop, I listened to Public Radio stations broadcasting the choir at King’s College, Cambridge, singing the traditional Lessons and Carols, with even King Charles III participating.

Then at my son Gene’s house on Christmas Eve, his wife, Angelica, stepped up to her Steinway, handed out printed words — some of us have been around so long that we don’t need them — and grandson Gabe, home from Temple for the holidays, grabbed his cello and played along as we belted out “Frosty the Snowman” and, yes, softly, “Silent Night.”

At home through the week, I lined up about two dozen Christmas CDs filled with memories and played them every evening.

Until New Year’s Day.

That’s when the “Million Dollar Quartet” blasted the audience right out of their seats at the Bucks County Playhouse. It was the final performance of the holiday show and the cast was at its rip-roaring best. What a day it was!

In the back story, the program explained, “The Million Dollar Quartet” is the name given to recordings made on Dec. 4, 1956 in the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tenn. The recordings were of an impromptu jam session between Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

It was like the line in “The Music Man,” when Professor Harold Hill boasts of the time the Great Creatore, Pat Conway, W.C. Handy and John Phillip Sousa, “all came together on the very same day” — unimaginable.

But there was Elvis (Joe Boover), wondering if he had a future after he is drafted into the Army, Johnny Cash thinking he might go to Hollywood (Tyler Michael Breeding), and Perkins (Sam Sherwood) still reaping fame from “Blue Suede Shoes,” hoping for his next hit with Sun Studio and considering a deal with Columbia Records. Sun Studio owner Sam Phillips (Bart Shatto) had brought in Lewis (Jason Cohen), a boogie piano man unknown outside of Memphis. Perkins came with his brothers Clayton and Jay and drummer W.S. Holland.

Elvis had stopped by with a girlfriend, Dyann (Margaret Dudasik), a city girl not especially impressed by her date, who joined the group with her stunning voice and mandolin. “Playing Louise in ‘Gypsy’ is my dream,” she said before heading home to New York.

Exuberant? They were acrobats, jumping and turning, playing instruments behind their backs. At one point the four created a triangle with Elvis on top balanced on one side by the bass. Lewis did flips, hands never leaving the keyboard. All the while strumming on those guitars! All together, one at a time, “Blue Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” the rock version, and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

In the show’s perfect New Year’s Day ending, the audience joined the cast and understudy Sam C. Jones in “Auld Lang Syne.”

Too bad if you missed it — if we’re lucky, “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” will be back in Bucks County next year.

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