For many people, the holiday season is infused with music, memories, light and hopefully a little laughter. At Colorado Matters, those four ideas are core to our annual Holiday Extravaganza. Our variety show takes a cue from the black and white glory of “The Judy Garland Show’s” Christmas Special, which aired in December, 1963, and featured Jack Jones, Liza Minnelli and others. Then, as now, the country was was grieving. Today, it’s COVID. In ‘63, President Kennedy had just been assassinated. We must always make room for hope.
At our sixth holiday show on Dec. 8th, 2021, we gathered at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts at The University of Denver with some of Colorado’s most talented performers, including jazzman Freddy Rodriguez, Jr., pop act Neoma, actor Betty Hart, singer/songwriter Liat and comedian Elliot Woolsey. While our audience was masked — and vaccinated — their smiles could be felt and their laughter bounced around the theater.
In addition to CPR News, The Colorado Matters Holiday Extravaganza will air at 4 p.m. on Dec. 24th on Denver7. Here are some of our favorite moments from the show, with photographs by Hart Van Denburg, CPR News’ visuals editor.
Headliner and pop sensation Neoma relocated to Colorado from Ecuador. She opened our show with a fresh take on Wham's 1984 hit "Last Christmas." To our surprise, the original version only reached number one on the charts in 2020. Wham's lead singer, George Michael, died Christmas morning 2016.
Actor and director Betty Hart, who often works with Stories on Stage, read "Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem" by Maya Angelou. She remembers bursting into tears the first time she saw it. "It's what the world needs more of," she said.
One stanza goes:
"It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground."
Palisade singer/songwriter Liat, who is Jewish, flew in from the Western Slope to help us celebrate Hanukkah. She wrote and performed a new original song, "We're Coming Home," which is streaming everywhere.
Liat and her partner used to live in Denver and had planned to get married in Palisade. "Then COVID hit and instead of getting married, we used the money to invest in a house in Palisade."
Comedian Elliot Woolsey develops new talent at Comedy Works in Denver. He showed off his own talents with a stand-up routine that poked fun at life in Colorado. "This is how liberal Boulder is: When you're leaving Denver — traveling north on I-25 — Boulder is the only city that makes you exit on the left!"
Inspired by two vocal instructors in Grand Junction, Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner got "super vulnerable" and sang for the audience and his own rendition of muse Judy Garland's "What'll I Do," written by Irving Berlin. Scott McCormick, of Denver, accompanied Warner on the piano.
Micah Smith, social equity reporter with Denver7, served as this year’s announcer. Smith has a Christmastime birthday. When we asked if, when she was little, people tried to give her one gift to cover both celebrations, she said her mother, who also has a late-December birthday, would not allow it. "You’re not going to do that to my baby! She needs two gifts, OK?!” her mother would say.
For more laughs, Colorado Matters Production Manager Michael Hughes browsed local record shops for the schlockiest holiday music he could find. “A Cabbage Patch Christmas,” from 1984, came out on top.
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