Susan Powell is “Coming Home for Christmas” with lots of fond memories of Oklahoma, a hopeful reunion with a dear friend and a jazzy version of Jingle Bells.
“It’s fun and fast … Barbra Streisand recorded it, and I’ve done it a few times with the (Oklahoma City) Philharmonic on The Christmas Show,” Powell said of the latter. “I love the Philharmonic. It’s my home orchestra … so I’m excited to be back there.”
Elk City native, coloratura soprano and television personality, 1981. crowned Miss America, Powell will return to her home state to perform alongside Grammy- and Emmy-nominated entertainer Michael Feinstein, known as the “Ambassador for the Great American Songbook.” as special guests for the OKC Philharmonic’s new holiday pop program, “Coming Home for Christmas.”
Performances will take place on December 2. and 2 d. 8 p.m. and December 3 8 p.m. Civic Center Music Hall.
The new holiday program will replace the “Christmas Show,” which has been created for the past 16 years by orchestra founder and music director emeritus Joel Levine and University of Oklahoma musical theater dance professor Lyn Cramer.
“It was more like a Radio City Music Hall, like a revue or a Broadway musical, which is great… But we wanted to be a little more intimate and heartfelt and classic — and see how it went with something a little different.” said Alexander Mickelthwate, music director of the OKC Philharmonic, who will conduct the holiday performances.
“But Joel called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to talk to you about the Christmas concert… It’s about Jingle Bells.’ fun but pretty hard so he had the drive or desire to call me and tell me about it. So, we agreed. Of course, everyone knows Jingle Bells, but Susan Powell chose that particular convention. it’s a bit longer, has a lot of meter changes, but it’s very theatrical… And I have to say, I’m very happy about it.”
Along with Jingle Bells, Powell spoke with The Oklahoman in a recent phone interview about her favorite Christmas songs, her childhood musical memories and her upcoming OKC reunion with Feinstein:
Q: What songs do you plan to perform with the OKC Philharmonic?
A: “I’m singing a few of my favorites: one is an original song by my friend David Friedman, which has this beautiful Christmas song, ‘Just in Time for Christmas,’ and the original orchestration is done by a friend of mine. And (there’s) some really nice, fun jingle bells and an original orchestration combining Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear?
Q: What was your first musical love growing up in Oklahoma?
A: “Like most Oklahoma kids, I sang in the church choir as a kid… Then the choir director when I was probably 6 years old (at Elk City United Methodist Church) pulled me out and said, ‘This little girl can do it.’ really sing Let her do a solo. And I don’t think I even told my parents. I think I just stood up and did it. I think I had vibrato even then. So, I’ve always been a singer.
“I think sixth grade is when you take a kid out to see what instrument they want to play, and I don’t know why, but I just love brass. I’ve always loved the sound of brass. My father tried to talk me into the flute because he thought it might be a little easier to hear it in a little three-bedroom house in Elk City when I’m practicing. But I chose trumpet. It had a learning curve, but I enjoyed spending time. Actually, when I went to (Oklahoma City University), I actually auditioned with my trumpet and I got a partial scholarship. It was for my singing because I was a voice major, but I also played in orchestra and band my freshman year.”
Q: What are your favorite musical Christmas memories?
A: “First of all, I grew up with Christmas carols and really traditional Christmas music, and then Elk City had a wonderful Christmas — and it’s still wonderful — at the Christmas Center, where they had Santa’s house.
“My dad had an appliance store that had a record – and I say ‘record’ because that’s what they were, records – section at the front of the store. It filled that niche because there was nowhere to buy records at the time. for teenagers who wanted to play music in their cars when cassette tapes came along. And of course people were building their own album collections, so he built an album section in the front of his store. So I grew up listening to Perry Como, all the great Irving Berlin songs from Christmas, and Elvis Presley did a Christmas album at one point. And my parents loved Elvis Presley… But Christmas music was really about the church.
“They still have a wonderful midnight service in Elko at that church.”
Q: I understand you and Michael Feinstein performed together at Carnegie Hall in 2016?
A: “Yes. Michael does the Standard Time series at Carnegie Hall, and he’s been doing it for years. … He brings one or two special guests to each concert to sing standards. He chooses the focus and then you choose the song. And one year he asked me to do it. I was really excited because it was one place on my bucket list that I had never sung. It was a very intoxicating experience.”
Q: Is it nice that he comes to your forest to perform now?
A: “It’s so great. It’s like a dream… because we’ve been friends for years. We actually met, I mean, in 1996. We were put on a wonderful panel of judges for the final night of the Miss America pageant. … 10 years later, we both we were again in the Miss America panel.
“That’s when we actually started talking, and I’d been in New York a lot longer. He and his husband were together for it, my husband was with me, and the four of us became fast friends… It’s really interesting. for him to come to Oklahoma City…and I was excited to get the call to join him.
Question: The Miss America pageant celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. Do you still feel connected to Miss America?
A: “Yeah, I love it. I go every year I can—I can’t this year, but I go every year I can—and that’s a very big part of what I believe in. It’s… I’ve done four state competitions this year: Oklahoma and Maryland, I was a judge in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
Q: What is it about Miss America that remains so important to you?
A: “The scholarship, the opportunity, learning to talk on my feet. When I started that journey I was completely paralyzed by the fear of talking on my feet. And it’s inexplicable – it’s like trying to tell you what the color blue is if you’ve never experienced it (laughs)… There’s nothing it’s bad to be in that system, that Miss America tour.
“Even if you just do a local (competition) and you don’t win a spot, you’re still getting seed money for college. That’s the bottom line, and now there are a lot more scholarships for young women who are majoring in medicine, music or whatever their field is.”
Q: Your husband, Richard White, is an actor, so tell me how you’ve been doing during the pandemic and what you’re up to now.
A: “My husband is the original Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, the cartoon classic, and actually as we speak in Los Angeles, he’s filming a 30th anniversary … tribute to Beauty and the Beast that’s on the air.” December 15 on ABC… Of course our business was literally shut down for almost two years.
“Now it’s really picking up and we’re busy again… I think coming out of it, we’re both really picking and choosing who we say yes to and not feeling so bad about what we’re saying.” no”.
OKC Philharmonic’s Coming Home for Christmas
Special guests: Michael Feinstein and Susan Powell.
When: December 2 and 2 8 p.m. and December 3 8 p.m.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall.