Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and the cast of “Hamilton” had an impact on this year’s Tonic Sol-fa holiday show.
“There’s more movement in this year’s show,” says Greg Bannwarth, one of the fearless four. “It’s not choreography, but it’s more ‘motivated blocking’ than before.”
Seeing the other acts perform, Bannwarth, Shaun Johnson, Jared Dove and newcomer Theo Brown decided they, too, could move with purpose while someone took the lead – not unlike backup singers or the chorus of “Hamilton.”
“We’re not trying to be One Direction,” Bannwarth says. “We’re giving the impression that we put more time in on the show.”
This year’s edition will also give audiences a chance to hear cuts that could land on next year’s “all-new” album.
And for those who like the greatest holiday hits, there’s a mix tape version that lets the four select their favorites from some 53 songs Tonic Sol-fa recorded over the years.
“A lot of people only see us at the holiday shows,” Bannwarth says, “so the mix tape was a way for them to get all of their favorites in one package.”
To get the best of Plastic Santa and the “men in tights” bit, they’ll have to attend one of the shows. While the a cappella group would like to put those two on a shelf (Plastic Santa is just that – a plastic Santa Claus decoration who says snarky things; two of the members don tights for another segment), “we can’t seem to get rid of them. So, we have to find different, creative ways of doing them.”
This year’s holiday show – called “The Greatest Holiday Show in the Entire Universe” – is more performance-driven, Bannwarth says. Now with new agents, Tonic Sol-fa is looking to do more television shows, more nationwide dates. “We’re going to have a bigger presence on all social media platforms. We’ll do more YouTube videos and shows that will help build the name recognition. It’s going to be an interesting year.”
With three-fourths of the current lineup in place since 2000 (Brown is the newcomer, replacing former Sioux Cityan Mark McGowan), they realized they needed to factor in things like family and work smarter.
“None of us is getting any younger,” Bannwarth says. “We’re no longer the flavor of the month. But you still see (performers like) Tony Bennett and Cher going stronger than ever. It just takes a little bit of lightning in a bottle to get you back where you need to be.”
New management helped the singers pass mundane duties to others so they could focus on the music and the performances. “As a person you grow, too,” Bannwarth says. “We’ve got families to consider; we need to be home more than we used to.”
Although Bannwarth’s daughter is a dancer, she hasn’t offered advice for this “more movement” year of shows. She just gets embarrassed when she sees dad on stage. “Only because I’m her dad. It wouldn’t matter what I was doing,” he says.
Brown, too, has been expanding the group’s focus. In recent years, he added drums and other instruments to the mix. This year, he has additional tricks up his sleeve. “Every day we learn new things this guy can do,” Bannwarth says.
Instead of being a special guest star (as he was billed in the past), Brown is now “a full-fledged member of Tonic Sol-fa,” Bannwarth says.