John Tesh’s Acoustic Christmas show, which played the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto last night, is far greater than the sum its disparate parts. The production is a bit confounding — much like the artist himself.
On paper, the show should never have worked.
Tesh performed only a handful of holiday songs during the show — especially if you exclude “Mele Kalikimaka” and “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas,” which we should all most assuredly do.
The artist shared the Gallo Center stage with his adult daughter who intermittently danced alongside her proud dad, and his adult son who told jokes and played ukulele. Intermittently, Tesh slid in a well meaning, well placed saxophonist player.
Tesh is an accomplished pianist, but I’ve heard countless singers who could have done a technically better version of “Silver Bells” from that stage. With a shot of Jack Daniels, this writer could have given him a run for his money.
Again, on paper, John Tesh’s Acoustic Christmas a train wreck waiting to happen. But I’ve rarely seen a better Christmas show. The evening felt as though we’d been welcomed into the Tesh family living room for hilarious stories, family photos, and music around the baby grand. The show was so intimate and personal that Tesh’s wife, actress Connie Sellecca, was missed.
Tesh said in advance that the evening would deliver as many stories as songs. He kept that promise. And with his son’s stand up comedy routine preceding the “concert,” he didn’t break for a brief intermission until after 9:00pm.
As such, Tesh lost some of his (perhaps) less patient fans, who may have expected more music. Those Gallo Center patrons missed the heart of the show.
After reading a brief passage from his forthcoming, long awaited memoir, Relentless: Unleashing a Life of Purpose, Grit, and Faith, Tesh testified about his full recovery from a rare, rigorous form of terminal cancer. In 2015, he’d been given 18 months to live.
From center stage last night, choking back tears, Tesh spoke of Sellecca “putting flesh on Jesus” and restoring in him the will to live. And he humbly talked about his mountain-moving faith that continues to spur him forward, and the power that he insisted that we all hold within.
Tesh, at 67, is still as disarmingly handsome and charming as he was during his TV days, when through a envious eye, I watched him sitting next to Mary Hart on Entertainment Tonight as I plotted a career in media. Just as he did then, Tesh somehow made it all work last night.
At the show’s end, Tesh insisted that he was neither pastor nor minister. He’s wrong about that. The broadcasting legend may not hold court in a church, but he ministered at the Gallo Center for the Arts last night, attending to our needs like a loving, caring dad…
while primarily perched at a piano, telling a few stories, cracking himself and us up with jokes that he’s probably told before, and playing a few songs.
In the middle of one of them, a romantic, original Christmas ballad, Tesh strolled into the audience, snatched a woman from her seat, and danced with her…as the slow music morphed into Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” Tesh and his new dance partner hoofed through that 80s dance smash, while the rest of audience roared.
My own dad might have done that — if he could have played the piano or danced — and he’d have done it almost as well as Tesh did.
I’ve got just one suggestion for Tesh: he should add his hysterical version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” from his Big Band Christmas album, to the production. I picked the CD up in the lobby after the show.
As I finished writing this review, a got an email from Tesh, thanking me for coming to last night’s performance. That’s the kinda guy Tesh is. Yeah, he was also offering a chance to pre-order the new book, but the guy’s gotta eat, right?
After last night’s performance, I’m a new fan of John Tesh’s music. Hell, I feel like I’m one of the family, now! And I can’t wait to read his upcoming book.