BRADENTON -- Eight years ago, the Rev. Bob Sichta co-founded an annual Christmas concert in his church in Madison, Wis., that more than lived up to the lyrics of "Baby, It's Cold Outside."
But this December, Sichta will celebrate his third Christmas season as pastor of the Congregational United Church of Christ in Bradenton. He's brought the concert, the "Spectacular Spectacular" with him to the Sunshine State, complete with professional singers and instrumentalists performing some of the best known religious and secular holiday hits. The only thing that will be missing is the snow.
Cue the Bellamy Brothers' "Tropical Christmas."
On Sunday, the third edition of the free, 90-minute concert will feature a professional Helden tenor who performed in the first "Spectacular Spectacular" in 2007, an Italian-language opera singer and a professional jazz lounge vocalist who happens to be the pastor's daughter. It's everything Sichta and his wife, Pia, could have imagined when they sat down to come up with something a little different than
the usual church Christmas musical event.
"It came from an idea that my wife and I had because of our favorite movie 'Moulin Rouge'," Sichta said, referencing the "Spectacular Spectacular" scene in the 2001 film.
The couple put together a lineup of professional musicians and positioned the event as a fundraiser for a medical clinic the Wisconsin church sponsors. Within a couple years, the event was selling out more than 400 seats.
So when Sichta moved to Florida, he replicated the event. "Spectacular Spectacular" drew just 75 people its first year, but doubled attendance to 150 in 2013. With up 500 seats to fill at the Congregational UCC church, Sichta wants to at least double the crowd again this year.
Songs in this year's lineup include "Comfort Ye My People" from Handel's "Messiah," "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, "Ave Maria" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas."
The event purposely mixes popular and religious music. Sichta said the UCC church has a history of inclusiveness he wants to spill into the holiday season in a big way for churchgoers and secular celebrants.
Christina Sichta, Sichta's daughter and a Miami regional Grammy Award winner, will perform four solos and three duets, including Celine Dion's "The Prayer" with tenor Dale Kitchell. Having grown up singing church choirs, the younger Sichta said she loves coming back to the church to carry on the legacy of the event and her family.
"It's been great, and lately a tradition," said Miami-based Christina Sichta, who performs five days a week at Truluck's Restaurant in Naples. "And I really enjoy singing with Dale every year."
Twenty-three business sponsors pay musician expenses. Any money left over will be combined with proceeds from a bake sale at the event Sunday and given to the Kids Club Early Learning Center and the ManaTeens youth group.
More than anything, the Rev. Sichta said he hopes those attending will catch the feeling of the season through the music.
"We so often go to Christmas concerts and we're not yet in the Christmas spirit," he said. "If this concert picks up their spirit, the we'll have done something."
Other performers include vocalist Marla Ryder, keyboardist LaTerry Butler, organist Carl Parks, percussionist Lane Ruise and a four-man backing horn and guitar section.
"Spectacular Spectacular" starts at 6 p.m. at the church, 3700 26th St. W.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.