Now that December has officially arrived, it’s time to haul out the holly, start sending the greeting cards and make holiday plans with Houston’s magnificent multitude of December delights. Just like the guilty pleasure of listening to Sunny 99.1’s day-round holiday music, the Houston Symphony is presenting a feast for the ears guaranteed to please those from one to 92 with Very Merry Pops December 7 - 9 at Jones Hall.
Gather with family and friends in a cozy winter wonderland for a sparkling celebration filled to the brim with traditional carols, festive favorites and heartwarming cheer. Ali Ewoldt, who most recently appeared as Christine in Broadway’s The Phantom of the Opera, joins in the fun, performing unforgettable renditions of your favorite holiday classics. Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke will lead the orchestra from the conductor’s stand.
“You can hear your favorite carols. I will be singing an amazing, epic rendition of ‘O Holy Night,’ ‘Winter Wonderland’ and some really beautiful [new] songs ‘Secret of Christmas’ and ‘Somewhere Is Your Silent Night.’ They leave beautiful messages for the holidays,” Ewoldt said.
Audience members will also hear perennial favorites like "Deck The Halls," "Jingle Bell Rock," Carol of the Bells" and "Sleigh Ride" along with a selection of other tried and true wintertime favorites. There are also two sing-a-longs for crooners who feel touched by the holiday spirit.
“It’s incredibly festive. It will span remembering what Christmas is about, Santa Clause and the joy and love of the holiday season.”
While the holidays might seem like an exhaustive schedule of decorating, cooking and purchasing gifts, the job gets even harder for a person like Ewoldt, who has spent years in national tours and performing on Broadway while also performing the occasional gig with symphony groups from across the country.
She made her Broadway debut as Cosette in Les Misérables, a role she played on the national tour, and appeared in Lincoln Center's recent Tony Award-winning revival of The King and I. She played Maria in numerous productions of West Side Story across the world, including in Houston on the 2009 Broadway Revival’s first national tour. She also performed a solo concert at Feinstein's/54 Below in New York and has sung in Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and The Town Hall. She also counts the New York Pops Carnegie Hall, the American Pops Orchestra and the Boston Pops Orchestra among her performance venues.
The holidays are already a hurried occasion, so it naturally begs the question, “How does she do it?” The balancing act, she tells Houston Press, is just part of the job.
“I think it’s a wonderful problem to have. It’s different every time. I might sing lots of songs from different genres versus a long contract [of the same songs each night] like Phantom of the Opera,” she said. “I’ve learned how to balance that and how to get myself ready for it. I love the variation. I love the shows where I get to show my own personality, talk to the audience and connect with them. It’s a fun balance.”
She also spills the beans about the mundane tasks she performs to keep herself physically prepared for each new endeavor.
“I think that a lot of the work I do is done at home in preparation for being able to sing a long concert. It’s all about the boring things like using a steamer and bringing a ton of water. I have a vitamin regimen, a vocal warm-up, throat sprays and I get enough sleep,” she says. “One can become neurotic performing, but I prepare myself beforehand to deliver the best possible performance.”
Balancing and finding ways for one talent to support another is a common theme she has experienced in life. As a young student, she attended Yale University to study psychology. It’s not the most intuitive jump to imagine a psychology student launching a theater career, but for Ewoldt, it’s one that made perfect sense.
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“I found that psychology was the field in which I was most fascinated, and I understood the practice. It’s the study of people and why we do what we do, and with acting, it’s the same thing,” she said. “The curiosity of internal motivations have been very helpful in creating characters and having different types of personalities to impersonate. Having a background in psychology has helped me to work.”
While being an Ivy League-educated Broadway star is enough to place her in a rare pedigree of thespians, she has another honor under her belt. She is the first Asian-American female lead in Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera, and she credits other performers who have helped pave the way. She's also creating pathways for others.
“I feel so fortunate to play the amazing parts I thought were dream roles. I was the first person of color to be cast in those roles on Broadway. At the end of the day, I’m grateful to work, but from my own experience, I was able to see Lea Solonga in Les Misérables. Being half Filinipa, that was amazing,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate to get feedback from all ethnicities that my playing Phantom’s Christine in such a high-profile setting has inspired them as well.”
A Very Merry Pops plays at 8 p.m. on Friday, December 7 and Saturday, December. 8; and at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday December 9 at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $40 to $152.