‘Carols by Candlelight’ showers Savannah Center with Christmas spirit

Everything in “Carols by Candlelight” exuded the spirit of Christmas – except the snow.

During the song “White Christmas,” a multitude of snowflakes  cascaded down from the top of the Savannah Center stage Thursday but they weren’t snowflakes.

Snow bubbles hit the stage Thursday at Savannah Center for the ‘Carols by Candlelight’ concert.
Alex Santoriello and Mary Jo Vitale bring Christmas spirit to ‘Carols by Candlelight’ on Thursday at the Savannah Center.

“This isn’t real snow – it’s soap,” said Alex Santoriello, who hosted the Rotary Club of The Villages benefit for Camp Boggy Creek. “It’s hard to breathe up here.”

Santoriello – with a cast that included Mary Jo Vitale, Dave Olsen, Chris Bonett, Vince Morris, Violet Ray and Bobbi Steele-Marotta – delivered a sparkling and powerful concert of Christmas songs.

The program runs again on Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. If this show doesn’t get you into the holiday mood, then maybe you need a visit from three ghosts.

This was a festive affair, including nearly a dozen elves, many of whom gave hand-held battery-operated candles to the audience. The people in the seats shed light on a warm and meaningful night of song.

Singing the ‘Three Kings’ song are, from left, Chris Bonett, Vince Morris and Dave Olsen.

It opened with Santoriello and Vitale – backed by a swinging six-piece band – singing a zesty version of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Vince Morris overcame some sound glitches to sing “Jingle Bell Rock,” and Vitale was in a flirtatious mood on a silky-smooth version of “Santa Baby.”

Alex Santoriello sings about the meaning of Christmas.

Bobbi Steele-Marotta earned some laughs while romping through, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” She was helped by dancers on stage that included Violet Ray, Janet Casavant, Diane Zugnoni and Susie Bradley.

Dave Olsen sang the Nat King Cole standard, “The Christmas Song,” with style, while Vitale and Santoriello teamed up on such classics as “Winter Wonderland” and “Let It Snow.”

Villager elves Peter Ely and Liza Walters hand out battery-operated candles to the members of the audience at the ‘Carols by Candlelight’ show.

Santoriello is a veteran of the Broadway stage and he displayed his dramatic vocal ability on a couple of songs. Santoriello was deeply reverent on “Ave Maria” and reached a spiritual high on “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

Vitale was equally moving on a soaring version of “O Holy Night.”  Violet Ray offered her sacred hula dance to “Silent Night.”

Mary Jo Vitale, in a spiritual moment, while singing O Holy Night.

But there were also plenty of light-hearted moments. Santoriello took a fall in frenetic “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

A Pee Wee Herman impersonator gained some laughs. Bonett, Morris and Olsen joined forces on a joyous “We Three Kings.” And the whole cast came together for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Bobbi Steele-Marotta gets some help from the elves.

There was even some rock and roll as the carol “Joy to the World,” was mashed up with the old Three Dog Night hit of the same name.

Regardless of the music, from rock to spirituals, the singers and the band – Jerry Bruno, Bill Neale, John Gaffney, Kevin O’Connell, Mike Abbott and Dave Czohara – were up to the challenge. 

Tony Violanti is a veteran journalist and writes for Villages-News.com.

Vince Morris gets into the Christmas spirit.
The audience at the Savannah Center for the ‘Carols by Candlelight’ show waves battery-operated candles.