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Friday
February 28th, 2020

klaus spotlight pageJesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) and Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons) prepare to deliver some toys in this scene from Netflix’s “Klaus.” Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Not very many letters are mailed nowadays through the post office, but there’s one letter everyone remembers sending from when they were young, the most important letter of the year – the wish list of Christmas presents from Santa Claus. Oddly enough, however, it’s rather unsure how the tradition of writing to Santa got started. 

A recent entry into the Netflix movie lineup, however, might just help answer that question. The recently released animated movie “Klaus” follows postman Jesper Johansson (voiced by Jason Schwartzman) stationed in a town in the North who befriends a reclusive toymaker named Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons) and together, they start many traditions associated with the Christmas season, including the use of reindeer and the mailing of Christmas gift lists to Santa Claus, all while making life in the community of Smeerensberg better. I’d had the movie suggested to me by Netflix back in November and was able to get around to watching it only recently, and I’m very glad I did. 

One of the main things I liked about the movie is the animation, and it is stunning. It’s a great  blend of hand-drawn 2D animation and more modern computer animation techniques that have been more prevalent in modern animated movies. The textures and colors and lighting used are so well done and all the characters and scenery truly pop and come to life onscreen. Overall, the animation is very well done and while I was watching it, I couldn’t help but compare it to some parts of last year’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (another animated movie that had mind-bogglingly amazing animation) because in some ways the animation techniques were kind of similar. 

trans siberian orchestra spotlight bob careyThe Trans-Siberian Orchestra recently brought its tour to Oklahoma City to great success. Photo by Bob CareyELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Many people would probably balk at a total 8-hour round trip to see a 2.5-hour concert. This weekend, however, I did just that when I made the trek to Oklahoma City to see one of my favorite musical groups, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra as they brought their annual tour through. My friend Robyn had gotten us tickets back in November as an early Christmas present and Sunday, I undertook the voyage on U.S. Hwy 83 to get there. 

I’ve been a fan of the group for a long time now and was made an even bigger fan when I saw them in Wichita when I was in high school, so the chance to see them again this time around was an opportunity I was not going to pass up. And ultimately, I’m extremely glad I didn’t. 

For those who haven’t heard of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the group is based out of Tampa, Fla. and are known for their very elaborate concerts, which include a string section, special lighting effects, laser shows and very elaborate pyrotechnics, all while merging classical music with rock music, to an awesome result. They’ve sold millions of albums and have toured all around the world. 

The first thing I’ve got to give praise to from Sunday’s show is the vocal performances, because every single person who stepped on that stage oozed talent and just overall put on great performances. The narrator for the first part of the show, Phillip Brandon, had a very nice narrating voice and like the gentleman who was at the show I went to back in high school, I feel like he could have read the phone book and it would have sounded incredible. Another vocal performance I particularly enjoyed came from the gentleman who sang my two favorite TSO songs, “An Angel Came Down” and “An Angel Returned” – I unfortunately didn’t catch his name during the show when all the group members were being introduced, so I don’t know who he was, but he had a fantastic, deep singing voice and I’ve already watched the video I took of his rendition of “An Angel Returned” a ridiculous amount of times because I liked his performance so much. 

lea michele christmas in the city spotlight pageLea Michele in a scene from her “Christmas in New York” video from her recently released “Christmas in the City” album. Courtesy photoELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The Christmas season is upon the world now and that means an (almost) onslaught of Christmas music being blasted in local stores and out of cars driving in traffic. Like many people, I’ve been searching for some Christmas music to listen to in order to help get in the holiday spirit and recently, I came across Lea Michele’s new Christmas album “Christmas in the City” on YouTube. Having been a fan of hers during her time on “Glee,” I knew I’d probably be in for a good time jamming out to her renditions of some of my favorite Christmas songs. 

But ultimately, my expectations ended up being blown completely out of the water – in a good way, of course. 

First off, a ton of praise has to be given to Michele’s vocals because they are absolutely outstanding. She has a great, clear soprano tone and she can also belt it with the best of them – sometimes within the same song on this album. I also love how she doesn’t strain herself or try too hard to reach the notes in the songs and lets her natural abilities shine through. Overall, her voice is perfect for all the Christmas songs featured on this CD and she sounds great on every single song, making it an overall very enjoyable album to listen to for this Christmas season. I would say my favorite vocal moment from Michele comes at the end of “O Holy Night” because the high notes she reaches sound absolutely beautiful, so much so that I almost cried just because of that song’s ending. I also really enjoyed her duet with Cynthia Erivo on “Angels We Have Heard On High,” their voices harmonized so well together and it just sounded absolutely amazing. And since that’s one of my overall favorite Christmas songs, I was very happy to hear such a great rendition of it. 

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