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Santa helps Pops celebrate holiday season

Santa Claus and conductor Keith Lockhart chat onstage in the opening of the Holiday Pops season at Symphony Hall Monday night. (MICHAEL J. LUTCH)

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

A furry green grump stole the show from the man with the jelly belly and red nose Monday night at the annual Holiday Pops concert at Symphony Hall.

Of course, the Grinch wasn't actually in the house but it seemed only fitting that actor Will LeBow's animated reading of Dr. Seuss's classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" -- complete with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus merrily "da-hoo, dor-ay"-ing as the denizens of Whoville -- would take a bit of the steam out of Santa's sleigh. The creature with the heart two sizes too small would've appreciated the irony -- and the whimsical arrangement that found percussion and brass giving voice to Seuss's wacky verbiage.

But the festive, two-hour performance of seasonal classics, the opening night of the Holiday Pops season, was enough to turn even the most sour Grinch-y frown into a smile.

The evening began on a bright note as LeBow read a portion of Tennyson's solemn but hopeful "In Memoriam A.H.H." and the chorus raised its voice for a spirited "Gloria" and the familiar "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah."

"The Adoration of the Magi" was a gentle undulation of bassoon and strings played tenderly as if not to disturb the baby in the manger.

In addition to the "Grinch," LeBow read the famous "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" editorial from The New York Sun and "The Chanukah Candle That Inspired George Washington" -- a tale of a Revolutionary War soldier lighting a menorah on the battlefield of Valley Forge.

The second half of the program was filled with well-known secular fare, including a knockout arrangement of "Sleigh Ride" that found the horns creating a horse's whinny and the chorus members pretending to hit bumps in the road.

The warm and fuzzies were interrupted only occasionally, as in the strange decision to include "Santa Baby" in a Kringle-centric medley. This creampuff of a melody is meant to be a sultry solo come on, not a prim group recitation.

Mr. Claus appeared just as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" reached its climax, making his way onstage to banter with conductor Keith Lockhart, clad in his signature bright red shirt.

Old St. Nick's material could use some work -- What kind of music do the elves listen to while tying up the toys in ribbons and paper? "Why 'wrap' music, of course!" Eek.

But his appearance was a sweet touch. And it must've loosened up the vocal cords of the nearly full house as the crowd happily participated in the closing singalong that included "Winter Wonderland" and "Jingle Bells."

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