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Review: 'Extravaganza' no overstatement for Lorie Line

by John Ziegler for The News Tribune An evening at a Lorie Line concert is a bit like landing on an unknown planet with very different gravity. All things as you knew them are temporarily suspended as you enter a world of perfection, with Line we...

by John Ziegler

for The News Tribune

An evening at a Lorie Line concert is a bit like landing on an unknown planet with very different gravity. All things as you knew them are temporarily suspended as you enter a world of perfection, with Line weaving her magic and igniting the imaginations of an adoring crowd.

The Lorie Line Holiday Extravaganza, with all its bells and whistles, has become even more than a tradition for many families throughout the Northland and the Midwest. The night after Thanksgiving each year guarantees a feast of costumes, choreography, lighting, set changes and, of course, music. On Friday, a near-capacity crowd at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center Auditorium, with blissed-out smiles, drank in the sights and sounds of Line's glistening piano (this year stately black with her name stenciled on the side), her richly arranged and extremely talented Pop Chamber Orchestra, her elegant gowns, her easy rapport with the crowd, and loved every minute of it. This is a show that delights in uplifting spirits and kindling holiday revelry.

That every facet of the show was given detailed scrutiny is an understatement. The Lorie Line juggernaut (musicians, road crew and husband, Tim, who functions as both tour manager and emcee) is a well-oiled machine that travels in two semi trailers and two sleeper coaches, and lights up the aural and visual senses of both young and old as they (like old St. Nick) travel across the wintry landscape.

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The theme this year was an exploration of Christmas both at home and in far-away lands and involved the countless costume changes that longtime fans have come to expect.

Line started the night in North America. On cue the orchestra, as if by David Copperfield magic, simply appeared around and above her on incredibly high risers that had the drum kit at least 10 feet over head. Repeat Line concert attendees know that hand bells are not only welcomed but encouraged, and the audience provides rhythmic clanging throughout the night.

A trio version of "Comfort and Joy" featuring piano, musical director Kenni Holmen and bassist Ian Allison was exquisite and showed the empathy that this group plays with and the velvety touch that Line displays at the keyboard.

Drummer Greg Shutte, in colorful gaucho garb (including lampshade hat), rolled out a Buddy Rich-inspired drum solo to begin "Feliz Navidad" that also included a soulful sax solo that sounded like something between Jr. Walker and Sonny Rollins.

Francis Kofi, the orchestra's percussionist from Ghana, was front and center as the celebration landed in Africa. He had all the musicians in bare feet and African dress celebrating the holiday season and the full moon as well.

The costume changes (this is everyone on stage, not just Line) included monastic garb for Germany, lederhosen as the tour swung through the Alps, geisha get-up for the Orient, absolutely adorable outfits for kids 3-15 from the audience who got on-stage as seals, elves, Eskimos, polar bears and penguins (with band in tuxedos and penguin hats) as they rocked the DECC on "Jingle Bell Rock."

Things wound up on Irving Berlin's classic "White Christmas" with soprano Norah Long leading the charge. Her tight vibrato and fluffy hat made her look and sound strikingly like Glinda "The Good Witch" from "The Wizard Of Oz" ... but somehow that seems perfectly appropriate in this context.

Line must never sleep. This leg of her tour is 42 cities in about the same number of days. She has recorded more than 30 discs, with sales topping 6 million copies. She has published 25 books of her music, owns and runs one of the largest independent record labels in the country, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children's charities. She tours relentlessly and Friday night in Duluth she showed that, like Barnum & Bailey, a Lorie Line concert is truly one of the "greatest shows on Earth."

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