Soggy skies did little to damper their spirits. Temperatures approached arctic territory (for the Sunshine State) — plummeting to darn near 60 degrees, as fans eagerly sought drier, toastier conditions — packing into Clearwater, Florida’s intimate 800-seat Nancy and David Bilheimer Capitol Theatre by 8 pm. At 8:10, the ever-elegant, sequin-clad pop princess appeared center stage — sparkling like a Christmas tree angel. Quaint and cozy, the ensuing holiday soiree would be a bona fide Yuletide “Glee Fest” — a fun and festive fender bender at the intersection of Broadway Boulevard and Branson Avenue.

With only two more dates remaining on her current month-long Winterlicious concert trek, Debbie Gibson, along with her seasoned, six-member ensemble, hit the Capitol stage with all the vim and vigor one would expect to see from such a pro troupe — on the first night of the tour. “This is not a glamor tour,” the prolific singer-songwriter and actress announced early on. “This is a, ‘I wanna get back in the trenches and be with the people, tour.’”

The impressive, non-stop, two-hour production provided ample Gibson chart-busters while leaning heavily on her latest album, the peppermint-flavored Christmas collection, Winterlicious. (We reviewed the new album here). Brimming with electric youthfulness, the beloved performer proved delightful throughout the 20-song cavalcade — engaging the enthusiastic all-ages crowd with a slew of stories from her platinum-selling 36-year career. Along the way, she also offered holiday-fueled reflections of her personal friends and family.

Despite being essentially a glitzy track date (tracks “spun” by DJ Sean Delaine), the show owned a very “live” vibe, with the cast members all performing famously. Veteran stage dancers Buddy Casimano and Eddie Bennett brought nothin’ but “A” game. In fact, Gibson’s longtime dancer, 53-year-old Casimano, executed more than a couple of jaw-dropping backflips. Vocalists Ronda Reese and Jenna Gillespie were simply superb, while ace guitar slinger Ariel Bellvalaire was an absolute superstar.

Bursting with “WOW” factor (and multiple wardrobe changes), the show wielded highlights galore. Celebrated stage actor James Barbour joined Gibson to “wing” a karaoke rendition of “Something There” from Beauty and the Beast. Additionally, Barbour’s magnificent solo performance of “Oh Holy Night” made for a mighty show-stopper.

Working her way through the crowd from both sides of the theatre at various points, Gibson was vocally and visually red hot. Delivering more bang for the buck, she stated (somewhere around the 90-minute mark), “I don’t want to cut anything from my setlist tonight.” In short order, she rolled into yet another shiny highlight, the heart-stopping “Legendary,” from her acclaimed 2021 release, The Body Remembers (read this review here)— a standout album track that stood even taller live, partly as a result of the soaring guitar work from Bellvalaire.

Although the “Christmas Dreams,” “Shake Your Love,” We Could Be Together,” and “Only in My Dreams” pyjama party medley was a warm and fuzzy feel-good, the most moving moments of the night centered around Gibson’s family. A beautiful duet, “White Christmas,” united Gibson with her father, Joe, via a cozy big-screen video clip, while “Cheers!” offered a loving and emotional tribute to her mother, Diane, who passed away earlier in the year. The power of Gibson’s sentiment was made apparent by the lovely lifelong Gibson fan seated next to me, who literally was brought to tears.

In sum, mad props to Debbie Gibson (and her talented troupe). In today’s troubled and oft-tragic world, she brought a sense of honest and pure peace and joy to the people at the precise time we need it most. I guess anything is possible. Bravo!

Artwork for the album ‘Winterlicious’ by Debbie Gibson

Debbie Gibson Winterlicious Set List (12.15.22):

1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
2. Jingle Those Bells
3. Electric Youth / Feel It Still (Mash-Up)
4. Candy Man
5. Foolish Beat
6. Lost in Your Eyes
7. The Gift
8. Christmas Star
9. White Christmas (Duet w/ Daddy Joe)
10. Let It Snow
11. Jingle Bell Rock / The Christmas Song
12. Illuminate
13. Something There (Duet w/ James Barbour)
14. Oh Holy Night (James Barbour solo)
15. Legendary
16. Blue Christmas / Out of the Blue
17. Christmas Dreams / Shake Your Love / We Could Be Together / Only in My Dreams (medley)
18. I Wish Everyday Was Christmas
Encore:
19. Cheers!
20. Sleigh Ride

Author

Christopher Long is a celebrated author, entertainment writer, TV / radio contributor, award-winning musician, popular speaker and international missionary. Referred to once as "the rock and roll Erma Bombeck," Long is known for his conversational, common sense writing style and possessing a passion for sharing his unique perspectives on pop culture, faith and politics. Raised in Missouri's rugged Ozark Mountains and on Florida's sunny Space Coast, Long currently lives near Cocoa Beach. (AuthorChristopherLong@yahoo.com)