The Butler County Symphony Orchestra was joined on stage by Michael & Kelly Marra, the Butler and Seneca Valley High School Choirs under the direction of Bryan Helsel(Butler) and Aaron Magill(Seneca Valley) and performing in the lobby prior to the concert were Select Members of the Butler Senior High Orchestra, under the direction of Mrs. Katie Black.
REVIEW PUBLISHED IN THE BUTLER EAGLE
BUTLER TWP — The Butler County Symphony Orchestra kicked off the holiday season with a delightful performance of orchestral and vocal music to an audience of more than 1,000 at Butler Intermediate High School Saturday.
Under the direction of Matthew Kraemer, the musicians and vocalists presented more than a dozen holiday favorites, many from Broadway shows or Hollywood films.
The combined choirs from Butler Senior High School Choral Ensembles, under the direction of Bryan Helsel, and the Seneca Valley Madrigal Singers, under the direction of Aaron Magill, opened the concert with the energetic “We Need a Little Christmas” from Jerry Herman’s Mame and Alan Silvestri’s “God Bless Us Everyone” from the 2009 animated “A Christmas Carol.” Unfortunately, it was difficult to hear the chorus in both numbers.
Dimitri Tiomkin’s suite from the iconic film “It’s A Wonderful Life” featured soprano Kelly Marra with the choirs. This beautiful score often goes unnoticed while watching the film, and Kraemer led the orchestra through both the silly “Buffalo Girls” and the tender moments of the movie. Marra, with her rich, warm voice, sang the theme.
Silvestri’s suite from “Polar Express” was the best orchestral selection of the concert. The score from the film of a boy’s magical journey to the North Pole simply sparkled. From the theme to the music of the thrill of arriving at Santa’s workshop, Kraemer and the orchestra conveyed their enthusiasm for the music to the audience.
The audience welcomed Butler native, baritone Michael Marra to skillfully perform Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song.” Marra has appeared on Broadway and with a touring company of “Les Miserables.”
The Marras sang three duets to conclude the first half. “Twelve Days to Christmas” from the musical “She Loves Me” pokes fun at the over-organized holiday shopper, and the Marras certainly enjoyed singing the piece.
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Meredith Wilson (best known for “The Music Man”) was performed as in the original musical “Here’s Love” against another holiday piece “Pine Cones and Holly Berries.”
“The Best Christmas of All” from the film “Mrs. Santa Claus” ended the set.
The orchestra opened the second half with a rousing arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” and highlighted the chimes.
With Hanukkah beginning the weekend, the symphony included Lucas Richman’s “Hanukkah Festival Overture,” a lively medley of traditional music.
The combined choirs returned to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from the film “Meet Me in St. Louis” For this sentimental favorite, their youthful voices were easily heard.
They sang their best, however, in Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night” with the Marras, against an uplifting orchestral arrangement.
No holiday concert would be complete without Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” first introduced in the film “Holiday Inn” (1942) to become the most recorded holiday song. The orchestra, choirs and vocalists performed Carmen Dragon’s lush arrangement just beautifully.
Perhaps it inspired the audience to give it their all for the sing-a-long medley arranged by Richman.
For an encore, Kraemer led the orchestra in an expertly played whip cracking, horse whinnying Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.”
Members of the Butler Senior High Orchestra ably performed several selections prior to the concert.
Maggie Stock, Eagle Correspondent
The audience certainly left in the holiday spirit.
Michael Marra, Baritone
Michael L. Marra has appeared on Broadway and in the Third National Tour of Les Miserables as the Bishop of Digne/Lesgles and also performed his understudy role of Thenardier over 70 times. Here he worked alongside Lea Salonga, Laurie Beechman, and Andrea McArdle. He was an originating cast member of the First National Tour of Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde choreographed by Tony Award winner Jerry Mitchell and alongside Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara where he played Bisset the Apothecary and understudied Proops, Pool, Glossop, and Stride.
Off-off Broadway Michael was proud to be an ensemble member of The American Globe Theatre’s production of Shakespeare Off -Key. He also created the role of Michael in Choices: The Musical presented at One Dream Theatre where he met and worked with a very young Natalie Portman, as well as the role of Aaron/Ryan in The Redemption of Jamie Harris which had productions at Florence Gould and CAMI Halls in NYC.
He has also been seen at Don’t Tell Mama’s in Michael Shaw’s Curious Love Songs. After spending 18 years in New York Michael moved back to his home town of Butler, Pa. where he now lives and is raising his family. While here he took part in Pittsburgh CLO’s production of The Producers with Joey Fatone where he played Mr. Marks, Kevin, Jason, Rolf and a host of other characters.
He has become a favorite at The Strand Theatre in Zelienople starring as Harold Hill in The Music Man, Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie, Bill Sykes in Oliver, Rooster in Annie , Pilatein Jesus Christ Superstar, and The King in Big River. Johnstown audiences saw Michael’s portrayal of Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd at the Pasquerilla Arts Center and Molokav in Chess at the Richland Performing Arts Center. Other regional credits include Weathervane Playhouse’s productions of Carnival where he played Marco the Magnificent, Harry Beaton in Brigadoon, Alan in Come Blow Your Horn, and his favorite role of Flint the Caretaker in Something’s Afoot.
He also worked at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, Pa. where he played Larry in Cheaper by the Dozen and was an ensemble member in Annie Get Your Gun. While at the Harlequin Dinner Theatre in Fl. he played Don Lockwood in their production of Singin’ in the Rain. He can be seen and heard in numerous industrial videos, commercials, photo shoots and voice overs in the Pittsburgh and Cleveland areas.
In addition to his acting credits Michael is an accomplished Technical Director, Master Carpenter and Set Designer having created sets for off-Broadway, as well as private high schools and The Butler Little Theatre. He is currently on the faculty of The Butler Center for the Performing Arts serving as their acting instructor. Of all his productions he is most proud and grateful for the two he has created with Kelly, his wife of 30 years, their two children Ella and Zach. He thanks his entire circle of family and friends for their constant love and support.
Kelly Marra, Soprano
Kelly hails from Carmel, Indiana. She began her involvement with the performing arts at the age of 10. As a teen she was a Carmel Coquette, a Carmel Ambassador, a student at Lynette Schisla Dance Studio, Indianapolis, and Butler University. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Dance while studying voice with, Professor Emeritus, Annetta Monroe at The University of South Florida, Tampa. As a university student she was given the opportunity to teach and choreograph in the Swing Choir World, working at camps and choreographing for competitions in Indiana, Mississippi and Louisiana. Kelly’s performance experience includes theme parks, cruise ships, regional theatre, off-Broadway theatre, involvement in a number of new works, industrials and commercial work. Favorite roles include Woman 1 “Side by Side by Sondheim”, Susan “Desert Song”,Nanette in “No, No Nanette”, Sarah “Guys and Dolls”, Morales “A Chorus Line”. She has worked with Sande Shurin, Luigi, Phil Hall, Liz Swados, The Manhattan Rhythm Kings, Gwen Verdon, and F. Murray Abraham. She has shared the stage with Bill Irwin and Will Shriner in “Fool Moon” as well as Dame Edna.
Kelly gained an appreciation for travel from her grandmother and has been fortunate to travel to all but 6 states in the Contiguous US as well as travel to Mexico, British Columbia, Caribbean, Japan, Greece and Italy. She and her husband owned a piece of the rock in New York City and lived most of their adult lives in Manhattan. In that time she interfaced with celebrities, politicians and people of note, too many to list.
Kelly holds an Associates of Occupational Therapy from The Swedish Institute in Manhattan and a Masters of Science in Acupuncture from Tri State College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in Manhattan. She is a licensed acupuncturist, sole owner and operator of Chrysalis Bodywork in Butler, PA.
The brightest, most important points of she and her husband’s lives are their children, her raisons d’etre, for which she is most grateful and continues to be reminded indeed…It’s a Wonderful Life!