Although it’s cold and drizzly outside New Brunswick’s State Theatre this Dec. 5, 2017 evening, things are heating up inside this historic showplace as music lovers ready themselves for a special holiday-themed concert entitled The Colors of Christmas. Starring Peabo Bryson, The 5th Dimension’s Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., American Idol’s Ruben Studdard, and Jody Watley, the production promises to be an evening of entertainment for the entire family filled with a satisfying mix of hits and holiday favorites.
As we wait for the show to begin, we chat with John from Morris Plains who won tickets for tonight’s show from a NJ “oldies” radio station.
“I called the station and I was lucky caller #13!” exclaims John.
A long-time fan of The 5th Dimension, John says, “I enjoy seeing all the oldies groups perform live. They bring back good memories. When you hear each special song, you try to remember who you were hanging out with and what you were doing when you first heard that music for the first time,” before adding, “I’m sure tonight’s show is gonna be good!”
We also chat with a family here to experience the magic of The Colors of Christmas together.
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Father Edwin from Plainfield — a former singer himself who had a 45rpm single, “I Need Love,” on the Ember Records label under the name Eddie Wood — says, “This show is a family affair. There’s something here for everyone.”
As if to prove a point, Edwin’s wife, Sheila, tells us, “I like Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.” before adding, “and I love Ruben Studdard, too — he’s the big teddy bear!”
And Edwin’s son Randall chimes in stating, “I’ve liked Peabo Bryson since high school. When I was a senior, I remember he was just fantastic — the best crooner around; I just can’t get enough of him!”
Lastly, Edwin’s daughter-in-law, Joan, confesses that her favorite artist performing tonight is Jody Watley.
Inside the beautiful State Theatre auditorium, we take a moment to chat with Frank from Iselin, who brought his mother, Rose, to enjoy tonight’s show with him.
Explains Frank, “When I was young, my mom played music in the house. I’ve gone on to see everyone from Aerosmith to ZZ Top, because my mom played music for me.”
“Every year, we come to The State Theatre for at least one Christmas show,” adds Frank before noting, “I like to support the community, and I always wanted to see Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. from The 5th Dimension.”
Frank’s mom, Rose, remarks, “I watched Ruben Studdard on television on American Idol. He has a beautiful voice.” Commenting, “I like happy music of any kind,” Rose additionally acknowledges, “and I can’t wait to hear Peabo Bryson sing Christmas songs!”
Lastly, we chat with Greg from Red Bank — here with Stacey from Easton, PA — who tells us, “The reason we’re here tonight is to get in the Christmas spirit!”
Getting ready for the concert to begin, we take note of the jazzy Christmas music playing over the crystal clear sound system. We also observe the stage which is arranged with dozens of lovely red and green poinsettias and a pair of lighted Christmas trees that shine behind the various keyboards, guitars, and drums set up around a grand piano.
Red and gold velvet banners frame a black curtain as audience members file in at the last minute, all ready to get in the holiday mood.
The starlit backdrop begins to flash lights as the Colors of Christmas band and choir members take their places and begin to perform “The Carol of The Bells.” The dazzling sounds of electronic instruments and rat-a-tat drums fill the auditorium with Christmas cheer.
Soon, Ruben Studdard enters, followed by Jody Watley, Marilyn McCoo, and Billy Davis Jr. Lastly, Peabo Bryson graces the stage, the quintet beautifully singing “This Is My Grown-up Christmas List.”
Segueing into a compelling rendition of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” the quintet’s vocal harmonies rise above the full-sounding band, changing from a traditional setting to a full-out rockin’ arrangement!
Following avid applause, the singers exit the stage, save for Peabo Bryson who is the featured soloist on a dynamic version of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Not missing a beat as he sings, Bryson makes his way down into the audience, greeting people and charming everyone in the house, ultimately picking a lucky lady in the crowd to dance with him. Falling into another young lady’s lap, he ends the song!
After greeting the happy crowd, Bryson launches into an intimate rendition of Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song.” Impressing the audience with his talent, he dances cheek-to-cheek with one audience member while singing high riffs, exemplifying the height of artful showmanship in his performance.
Moving on to a delightful arrangement of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Bryson is joined by Marilyn McCoo. As the pair duets together, the jazzy sound of the music reminds audience members of a relaxing Christmas at home.
After singing a solo on one of her signature 5th Dimension songs, “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All,” McCoo introduces the audience to her “partner in music and in life,” Billy Davis Jr. Together, the duo performs their hit, “You Don’t Have to Be a Star,” their familiar voices blending as one as audience members softly clap along and smile.
Davis Jr. is next to take a solo. Explaining, “I like to sing about the real reason for the season,” Davis Jr. performs a superlative gospel rendition of “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” Relating this timeless story through a slow gospel framework, Davis Jr. preaches to the audience with his voice, clearly doing what he loves in front of this receptive congregation of music lovers.
Ruben Studdard takes the stage next, performing a sparkling rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “This Christmas.” Inviting the audience to clap along, Studdard says, “This is my favorite time of the year! I love Christmas music,” before adding, “At my house, it isn’t Christmas until we play the Motown Christmas album!”
Moving on to Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas,” the top-notch band deftly accompanies him, after which Studdard confesses, “19-year-old Stevie is harder to sing than 30-year-old Stevie!”
The drums and bass start to play a hip-hop beat as Studdard smoothly sings the classic melody of “Silent Night” over the pointed syncopation of the rhythm section. The unique contrast in articulation gives this classic song a new twist as Jody Watley joins Ruben on stage just in time for the song’s second verse.
Following huge applause, Watley tells the crowd, “We are just one ol’ musical family tonight!”
Coming down into the audience, Watley impresses the crowd with her hit, “Everything.” Singing, “ You were my everything/Now I’d give anything/To feel the love you bring,” the audience responds with applause and cheers, after which, the group takes a short intermission.
During the break, we catch up with Greg and Stacy — whom we spoke with earlier — Stacey commenting, “We’re in the Christmas spirit now!”
We also chat with a trio of friends here at the State Theatre together to experience some Colors of Christmas cheer.
Says Pam from Burlington, “I came to see Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.,” to which Myra from Asbury Park comments, “It’s amazing how Marilyn and Billy have maintained their excellent voices” before adding, “and Peabo Bryson certainly has, too!”
Pam and Myra’s friend, Mary from Trenton, says, “They’re all my favorites tonight. I really liked ‘Silent Night’ — it was different,” recalling, “I remember Jody Watley from Soul Train,” and concluding, “This concert came just at the right time. It’s very uplifting!”
Act II commences with the Colors of Christmas band and choir opening with “Are You Ready for a Miracle,” after which Peabo Bryson performs his monster hit, “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again,” featuring beautiful six-part vocal harmony.
The crowd cheers, after which Bryson tells a story about how, when recording that song, he spent “11 days in the studio recording 102 different lead vocal tracks — in two different keys!”
Acknowledging “the great one,” Luther Vandross — whom he calls “the greatest interpreter of songs” — Bryson performs a tribute to Vandross with “Bless Us With a Christmas Heart.”
The audience shouts out, “Sing it, Peabo!” as he segues into his own song, “Feel the Fire.”
Following that up with his smash hit, “Beauty and the Beast,” Jody Watley joins Bryson as the two powerhouse singers perform a gorgeous duet. While one audience member shouts out, “Alright, girl!” another screams, “Peabo can sing, too!”
One of the highlight performances of the evening is when Ruben Studdard and Peabo Bryson join forces on a Marvin Gaye medley featuring “What’s Goin’ On” and “Mercy Mercy Me.”
Singing in close harmony, the audience keeps time clapping along, the slow burning groove of these two soulful crooners spreading Gaye’s timeless message of change.
Audience members continue to be thoroughly engaged as Studdard sings his own hit song, “Angel,” giving the performance everything he’s got, obviously enjoying the musical comeraderie and fellowship of the evening.
Changing things up, Studdard moves on to Luther Vandross’ “At Christmas Time,” singing, “Ooh, every year at Christmas time/I hear the people laughin’/Smilin’, bein’ happy again/Ooh, at Christmas time.”
Then, Jody Watley rocks the house with her upbeat rendition of “Real Love,” before segueing into a cool disco/funk version of “Jingle Bells.”
Marilyn McCoo joins in singing harmony and invites the entire State Theatre crowd to sing along on the ubiquitous “Jingle bells, jingle bells/Jingle all the way” chorus.
McCoo is featured on a stirring rendition of her “favorite Christmas song,” “O Holy Night,” for which she is rewarded with an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Another highlight of the evening comes when Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis Jr., and the Colors of Christmas band and choir present their you-just-had-to-be-there rendition of “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine in,” the entire crowd joyfully singing and swinging on the famous “Let the sunshine in” chorus.
Following huge applause, McCoo and Davis perform their 5th Dimension hit, “Up, Up and Away,” hitting all the high notes perfectly.
To conclude this magical show, Jody Watley, Ruben Studdard, and Peabo Bryson join the couple on stage, the entire group singing “Joy to the World,” spreading peace, love, and holiday joy to all present in the house.
The audience rewards the group with a resounding standing ovation!
As we make our way out of the historic auditorium, we chat with several concertgoers who share their experiences enjoying the Colors of Christmasconcert this evening.
Comments Leon from East Brunswick, “This show was excellent!” before adding, “My favorite performers were Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. and Peabo Bryson.”
Leon’s wife, Marilyn, agrees adding, “It was absolutely wonderful — it was the perfect kick-off to a wonderful holiday season.”
Lastly, we chat with Leon and Marilyn’s son, Brandon, who says he enjoyed “all the songs” because he’s heard them ever since he was a young boy!
Brian from Lancaster tells us, “I really loved this show. It was fun seeing all of the acts together on the same stage,” before admitting, “I’m a big Jody Watley fan. I’ve seen her 13 times,” and acknowledging, “I’m even Facebook friends with Jody and as a result, I brought my mom to meet her after the show.”
Exclaims Brian’s mom, Doris, about this evening’s performance, “I loved all of it!”
We also chat with Ed from New York who says, “I’m a Jody fan, too,” explaining that, “true Jody Watley fans are called The Wattage Crew.” A fan “ever since she was on Soul Train,” Ed says tonight’s show was “even better than last night’s performance of The Colors of Christmas,” which he saw in Westbury, LI.
Lastly, we chat with Burt and Sue from Brick, NJ. States Burt, “This was one of the best holiday performances we’ve seen. Everything from the featured artists to the band to the choir — as well as the costumes, lighting, and stage set — was first-class all the way!”
Burt’s wife, Sue, agrees with her husband, adding, “The music really put me in a mood for the holidays,” before concluding, “You just don’t know what you’re missing if you missed The Colors of Christmas!”
For information on Peabo Bryson, please go to peabobryson.net. To learn more about Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. please click on facebook.com/McCooDavis. For more on Ruben Studdard, check out rubenstuddard.com. To find out more about Jody Watley, go to jodywatley.net. For information on upcoming concerts at The State Theatre — including Dancing with the Stars Live on January 9, 2018; America on February 28, 2018; and Tony Bennett on April 5, 2018 — please click on stnj.org.Photos by Love Imagery
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