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“She Sounds as Good in Person as She Does on Her Records! Martina McBride’s “Joy of Christmas” LIVE! at STNJ

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The glittering auditorium inside New Brunswick’s State Theatre New Jersey is bustling this Sunday, December 4, 2022 evening as patrons ready themselves for the start of Martina McBride’s 12th annual Joy of Christmas concert.

The stage is set with a gauzy curtain draped from the ceiling to the floor and illuminated by blue lights. Snow-covered evergreens are artistically arranged around musical instruments including a white baby grand piano and a plexiglass-enclosed drum set.

STNJ President and CEO Sarah Chaplin asks patrons, “Are you ready to ring in the holiday spirit?” and thanks them for sharing the evening here in the venue’s recently-renovated auditorium. Cheers from the crowd confirm that concertgoers are, indeed, ready for some holiday cheer.

The lights dim, and the trees on stage are illuminated one by one in time to the rhythm of “Let it Snow” played by an on-stage orchestra consisting of piano, guitar, bass, and drums, in addition to a three-piece string section and three-piece horn section.

Music lovers cheer as Martina McBride, wearing a red off-the-shoulder gown trimmed with feathers, enters singing, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful/But the fire is so delightful/And since we’ve no place to go/Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”

Vocalizing with flair, McBride welcomes the season with her sweet country soprano as blue lights illuminate the big band-style music stands which look like blocks of ice adorned with snowflakes.

Lights change to red and green as the music changes to 3/4 meter and the crowd recognizes the Christmas classic, “Silver Bells.” Music lovers sway at their seats as McBride’s lilting voice waltzes over the audience and fills them with holiday cheer.

The audience hoots and hollers as McBride welcomes them, announcing, “Hello, New Jersey! Merry Christmas! We’re so happy to be here where it’s nice and cold!” Acknowledging that this is her twelfth year doing her Joy of Christmas show, McBride explains that her mission tonight is to “get everyone in the Christmas spirit.”

To emphasize her point, she launches into “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” where instruments dance along under her expressive vocal as she cries, “With the kids jingle bell-ing/And everyone telling you be of good cheer/It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

The audience sways to the joyful noise before rewarding McBride and Co. with enthusiastic cheers and applause.

Saxophone, muted trombone, trumpet, and walking bass are featured on an upbeat and jazzy arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” Then, McBride talks about “White Christmas,” acknowledging, “I think it’s the best song anyone’s ever written,” prior to dedicating it to members of the military. Strings begin the lush musical intro that highlights McBride’s clear expressive vocal as she sings, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know.” As the music becomes more upbeat on the second verse, a whir of machinery can be heard as “snow” begins to fall from the ceiling in the front of the auditorium, and McBride concludes her serenade before exiting the stage to great applause.

Trombone and trumpet are featured on a nostalgic instrumental arrangement of the well-known A Charlie Brown Christmas song, “Christmas Time is Here,” as green lights illuminate the trees. Grand piano, drums, bass, and guitar join in on this jazzy number that has concertgoers’ toes tapping and music lovers applauding at the end.

Horns call as McBride returns to perform a jazzy version of “Home for the Holidays.”

The Christmas mood continues with a swinging arrangement of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which features a flute intro and a New Orleans jazz-style interlude.

McBride takes a moment to suggest that no show of hers would be complete without some of her most popular songs as guitar twangs the intro to her 1995 #1 Country hit, “Wild Angels.” With the audience clapping along under flashing and swirling white lights, McBride sings with power and charm while the band rocks underneath her. Horns and strings join in as music lovers cheer for a tasty guitar solo on the interlude.

Announcing, “Here’s a song about love and loving each other,” McBride plays the harmonica intro to her country-rock number, “Love’s the Only House.” Horns blare, strings bow, and the guitarist and bassist sing backup as McBride’s dynamic performance brings hoots and hollers from the crowd.

Exclaiming, “This is for all my New Jersey girls!” McBride sings directly to the ladies in the audience on her 2003 hit, “This One’s For the Girls.”

Women in the audience cheer and sing along with Martina on the song’s “This one’s for the girls/Who love without holdin’ back” refrain. After asking the audience to sing the song back to her, McBride states, “Thanks so much! Wow! Sometimes I get blown away by the fact that I get to stand up here and perform for you!”

Explaining that her next number has taken on a different meaning since the pandemic, she concludes Act I with a tour de force performance of her original composition, “Anyway.” With force and conviction McBride cries, “God is great, but sometimes life ain’t good/When I pray it doesn’t always turn out like I think it should/But I do it anyway,” on this ballad which builds into a power anthem.

Audience members stand and cheer and McBride accepts flowers from a fan. Touched by the crowd’s response, McBride thanks the audience before leaving the stage for a short intermission.

Act II continues with a set rich of traditional holiday songs where McBride swings her way through “Happy Holidays,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Acknowledging, “When I hear this song, it is officially Christmas,” McBride lulls the audience with her smooth rendition of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song.”

Heavenly sounds float through the theater as McBride performs a captivating version of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and she follows up with a country waltz arrangement of “Away in a Manger.”

A highlight of the second act is McBride’s interpretation of “O Holy Night.” Standing center stage with the spotlight illuminating her, McBride shines with her simple and emotional rendition of this Christmas classic.

Band members join in and the audience stands when McBride skillfully hits the song’s spectacular high note at the end of this memorable performance.

After bowing and exiting, McBride and company return for a bluesy encore version of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home For Christmas.” Finally, their rendition of Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” has the whole audience on its feet dancing and singing along to the twinkling holiday lights. McBride concludes by stating, “Merry Christmas, New Jersey! God bless you all! We’ll see you next time!”

As music lovers make their way out of the STNJ auditorium, we chat with several in the crowd who share their thoughts on tonight’s performance. Says Alena from Wall, “Martina McBride’s show was very festive — the set was beautiful and the snow was a nice touch!” Leslie from South Bound Brook remarks, “I’m a fan of Martina McBride — this was my first time seeing her — and, now, I’m 100% in the Christmas spirit. I loved the lighting, the trees, and the set, and the band was fantastic, as well.”

Joe from Metuchen declares, “Martina McBride’s show tonight was great! I loved the mix of country and Christmas music. My brother and I always pick a Christmas show and this was the one we chose this year.” Adding, “We love this theater!” Joe’s brother, Bill from Metuchen, notes, “It was a really great show, and we had such good seats that we even had snow falling on us during ‘White Christmas.’ Plus, the sound was perfect!”

Theresa from Somerset reveals, “I’m a follower of Martina McBride, and I liked this show very much. I enjoyed the Christmas songs, but since I’m such a big fan, I especially loved it when she did her own songs. Her voice is amazing — she puts a lot into her performances — and her song, ‘Anyway,’ was incredible; it’s such a spiritual song.”

Steven from Metuchen calls tonight’s concert, “Wonderful!” explaining, “Martina McBride’s voice is outstanding, and I thought it was amazing when she sang ‘Anyway.’” Steven’s wife, Eileen, reveals, “I’ve been a fan of Martina McBride for 20 years and this was my first time seeing her. She was wonderful — even better than I expected. She has such a strong and amazing voice,” before concluding, “She sounds as good in person as she does on her records!”

To learn more about Martina McBride, please go to . For information on upcoming shows at New Brunswick’s STNJ — including Linda Eder on January 22, Boyz II Men on February 10, America on March 3, and Patti LuPone on March 25 — please click on .



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For the best in Jersey entertainment reviews, news, and interviews, keep it focused on Spotlight Central