By Ed Wilkinson and John Alexander
WILLIAMSBURG — A rock legend, a Grammy Award winner, an American Idol finalist, and a New York Tenor highlighted the Spirit of Christmas Concert that benefitted Catholic education in Brooklyn and Queens.
The festive annual event was held on Dec. 13 at the Emmaus Center in Williamsburg, a diocesan center for evangelization through the arts.
The packed house of more than 600 people was treated to some beloved rock, pop and Christmas classics, along with some Grammy Award-winning hits courtesy of Al Jardine of The Beach Boys and singer-songwriter Peabo Bryson.
World-renowned New York Tenor Christopher Macchio hosted the show and performed alongside each featured guest, including 10th season American Idol finalist Haley Reinhart, female vocalist Jackie DiMaggio, harpist Erin Hill and celebrated pop and Doo-Wop singer Joel Katz.
The star-studded cavalcade of popular music performers took the stage along with such notable guests as Bishop Robert Brennan and Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Williamsburg.
The show opened with Juan Morales and his group performing a well-received rendition of “Feliz Navidad.” Anthony Mangano, host of NET-TV’s “City of Churches” welcomed everyone with a prayer and a rendition of “A New York Christmas,” before singer Joel Katz impressed the audience with his cover of the late Johnny Maestro’s classic “16 Candles.” Especially moving was the fact that Maestro’s widow was in the audience.
The audience erupted in applause when Al Jardine performed a selection of The Beach Boys hits including “Surfin’ USA,” “California Girls,” “I Get Around” and the 1965 No. 1 hit “Help Me, Rhonda,” that featured Jardine singing lead on the original recording. Macchio joined Jardine for a touching rendition of “What Would I Do Without You.” Erin Hill and Jardine performed a heartfelt duet of The Beach Boys favorite “In My Room.”
Msgr. Gigantiello called it an “extra special” evening because all proceeds from the show benefit Futures in Education, an organization that for more than 30 years has helped provide financial aid and tuition for students attending Catholic schools and academies in the Diocese of Brooklyn, and allowed the audience to reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas.
Bryson has released more than 30 albums, with five being certified Gold, and 57 charted singles, including the 1984 top-20 duet classic “Tonight, I Celebrate My Love” with Roberta Flack, and the top-10 hits “If Ever You’re in My Arms Again,” and the chart-topping “A Whole New World” with Regina Belle.
Bryson was joined by DiMaggio for his Grammy Award-winning duet “Beauty and the Beast,” which he originally recorded with Celine Dion. Bryson mentioned Dion’s recent health struggles and asked the audience to pray for her.
Reinhart dedicated a stunning performance of “Silent Night” to Bishop Brennan as she reflected upon attending Midnight Mass and recalling all that it means to her and her family.
Macchio, who has performed in some of the most esteemed venues around the globe, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Apollo Theater, and the White House, performed devotional standards, including “Ave Maria,” and Msgr. Gigantiello’s favorite hymn, “O Holy Night,” which Msgr. Gigantiello said it best sums up “the true meaning of Christmas and the night Jesus was born and became man to be with us.”
To conclude the program, Macchio invited Bishop Brennan and all the performers to join him on stage for the timely hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
The Emmaus Center is a world-class performing arts theater housed in the historic Williamsburg Opera House, which was built in 1897 and renovated in 2021. The 800-seat venue is situated above Ss. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church and located at 299 Berry Street in Williamsburg.
Craig Tubiolo, executive director of the Emmaus Center and founder of Godsplanproductions.com, said that the purpose of the concert was to bring people together.
“The audience was blessed by legendary performances by our very own Chris Macchio and special guests,” Tubiolo added. “It was clear to see that their God-given gifts and talents were on display in honor of the Christmas season.”