Santa made some pre-concert announcements: the show would begin soon, it is naughty to use devices during the show, and after the concert one and all could meet the performers in the lobby. And then, singer/pianist Jim Brickman, and his "A Joyful Christmas" revue, played to what appeared to be a sold-out Riviera Theatre on Saturday night.
As spotlights moved over the audience, Brickman took his seat at his center stage grand piano in his signature, holiday-ready red jacket. "On a Winter's Night," show opener, began with him solo. He was joined minutes later by violinist Tracy Silverman, followed by Anne Cochran and then singer/guitarist Luke McMaster.
Brickman greeted everyone with a hearty "Hello Buffalo, we're so happy to be back here again, and so close to Christmas." It is unusual, he would later say, for the troupe to hit the same city two years in a row. He added the show is meant as a holiday stress antidote, suggesting that everyone "Sit back, close your eyes and let the music take you wherever you want to go tonight." This reviewer did, for one song, until concern set in that a deep slumber might ensue until intermission.
His original compositions, contemplative jaunty, and romantic, were interspersed with gorgeous medleys of traditional Christmas songs. After his "Remembrance," Brickman joked that he begins by "Playing the white notes," building up to the sharps, flats and black keys. "I'll play all the notes now," he quipped.
Comedic interludes, choreographed and corny, reminiscent of many televised variety shows of yore, went on a bit too long. In one were we to believe that elegant, gowned singer Cochrane really won first place in a chili completion? Did we need to see her receive an award ("The Woody," a big spoon) handed over by McMaster posing as Brad Pitt? Answers: not really, but it was all in old-fashioned fun.
Silverman (who performs on a six-string violin, with extra bass ability) had a few breakout moments, stomping on effects pedals and plunging into rock and roll violin. One array of classics by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple ended with a snippet of "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel." Another set highlight was the Brickman/Cochran duet on his "The Gift." After intermission, Silverman did a Hendrix-worthy rendition of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," shredding some bow horsehair.
"We need more chill-out in the world," Brickman said, before playing one from his "Soothe Series," "Fly." Santa announced that for one song only, "Raise a Glass," everyone could photograph the performance: several did, but it was not a sea of smartphones. Cochran read questions from the audience, reminding that the performers would greet everyone in the lobby.
"Love can always find a way," were Brickman's last words to the rapt audience before the performers, with linked arms, took a bow before a standing ovation. Brickman returned to the stage for one more medley, built around "The First Noel."
"Opening act" Joe Momot, so described by Cochran, performed on the Mighty Wurlitzer full-tilt. His whole-body "Winter Wonderland," was a thing of wonder as he worked the pedals and keys. His closer, however, "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's baroque "Messiah," was an unforgettable, orchestral experience from that one hallowed instrument.
Jim Brickman: A Joyful Christmas, Dec. 22 at the Riviera Theatre.