Swinging Christmas

Helen Welch belts out teh holiday cheer at Playhouse Square's Jingle Bell Swing.

Cleveland art
At today’s Jingle Bell Swing concert, Helen Welch belts out the holiday standards she’s been practicing for 11 months. “I don’t feel very Christmassy,” she says. “I’ve been singing Christmas songs all year. We started researching in January.” This afternoon’s show at Playhouse Square features the 11-piece Dave Banks Big Band, as well as the 40-member Walsh Jesuit Show Choir. “It’s a lot of work,” says Welch. “I’m going to collapse when it’s all over.”

Welch -- who was born in England but lives near Ravenna -- mixes jazz classics, popular show tunes, and big-band blowouts into her usual set. But her holiday offering includes a stocking full of Christmas faves, which are performed onstage with lavish costumes, a sexy trio of backup singers, and some “cheeky British humor.” “Every single song has been custom-arranged for me,” says Welch. “I wanted to put my own personal mark on this music.”

The 37-year-old moved to the area more than three years ago, following an overseas stage career that included roles in Barnum, Carousel, and 42nd Street. “I had enough of the rat race there,” she says. “I grew out of it.” Welch says '40s-era pop music -- which fills One Dream, her new CD with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra -- has always been at the top of her hit list. “I was brought up with lots of different music,” she says. “I call them chocolate-box songs, because of the variety. You can go in there, and most of the chocolates you’ll like.”

Still, it’s the holiday program -- tunes like “Jingle Bells,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and a Dixieland version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” -- that Welch is most proud of. “We got some very funny looks from the people at the library, because we were leaving with an armful of Christmas CDs in March,” she says. “But this is my jewel in the crown. It’s a feel-good, get-up-and-dance-in-the-aisles kinda show. It’s like Vegas in Cleveland.”
Sun., Dec. 17, 3 p.m.

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