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Shirley Jones, Chorus Sing at Center

December 21, 1987|DON HECKMAN

Christmas arrived with all its splendor at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Friday night in a festive program featuring singer-actress Shirley Jones with the Pacific Symphony and the Orange County Choral Conductors' Guild Massed Chorus.

Maybe there was something strange about sitting in that vast monument to material achievement, listening to a richly dressed collection of singers and musicians perform songs celebrating the life of a penniless carpenter. But maybe, too, the non-judgmental acceptance of such contradictions is one of the things that Christmas is all about.

Jones, whose slender figure and classic good looks surely make her one of the world's most attractive grandmothers, sang two full sets. The first was devoted to a lush survey of Christmas songs; the second took a brief tour through a collection of Broadway show tunes.

Her rich soprano, while never a world-class instrument, has survived remarkably well. Only an occasional tendency to slide into pitches, especially in her lower head tones, revealed that any wear and tear had taken place since Jones dazzled the Hollywood musical scene decades ago in the film versions of "Oklahoma," "The Music Man" and "Carousel."

Appropriately, however, given the season, the surprise star of the show was a brand new talent--a remarkable 10-year-old violinist named Leila Josefowicz. Looking a bit like a mini-Drew Barrymore, the gifted girl played Hubay's legato-rich "Hullamzo Balaton" with dramatic panache, very nearly stealing the evening from a stage full of older performers.

The Pacific Symphony had little to play that tested the skills of this ensemble. Except for a few glitches from the French horn section during horn-heavy arrangements, the orchestra played with flair and precision.

Keith Clark conducted the symphony and the chorus for the program, which was repeated on Saturday night.

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