It would not be Christmas without the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. This year my wife, son and I joined by our friends Abby, Kim, & Sid took in the Winter Solstice performance on the evening of December 21st. The show was delightful as always with the subject being near and dear to my heart, the music of Irish emigrants as they sail the new world.
The show was a more restrained and simple performance than a typical Revels keeping to the theme of the cast being impoverished immigrants aboard a ship and not having much to celebrate with. After the opening number, lines and gangways were removed from the sides of the stage and notably no cast members went down the steps into “the ocean” except during a storytelling sequence. These restraints did nothing to detract from the beauty of the song, dance, and stories performed.
Highlights of the show for me included:
- Bill Meleady’s colorful telling of The Soul Cages, the exception to the restraint on the performance where the visuals of the story come to life in vivid detail. I enjoyed the dancing crustaceans especially as well as Steve Barkhimer’s portrayal of the merrow Coomara.
- “The Wexford Lullaby” gorgeously performed by Mary Casey along with Jamie Jaffe as a duet and later as a quartet.
- The dramatic “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” swelling as the audience joins the chorus.
- “The Lord of the Dance” is always a highlight and was cleverly worked into the show as being the English ship crews’ contribution to the shipboard celebration.
- The show had several sets of traditional Irish music by The Rattling Brogues and step dance by O’Shea-Chaplin Academy of Irish Dance that livened up the proceedings greatly.
- If there was one minor disappointment is that the show ends with the immigrants seeing The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The show is set aboard the Cunard steamship RMS Carpathia and since Cunard had a western terminus in Boston (there’s still an office building marked “CUNARD” on State Street) it would have been a nice local connection to have the ship dock here instead of New York.
A traditional element of the Revels – “The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” – was not included in the program but as this was the Winter Solstice, the audience was treated to a special rendition of Abbots Bromley after the curtain call. I’d actually guessed that Abbots Bromley was the surprise we’d been promised before the show, but it was still a thrill when the first haunting notes of the recorder came out and the audience reacted with joy.
This was another great Revels and I believe all the shows were sold out. If you missed this year’s Revels, make sure to get your tickets early for next year’s show which I promise will be just as great.
A special edition of SOTW brings together three current songs to get you in the holiday spirit.
First, Sufjan Stevens’ “Lumberjack Christmas/No One Can Save You From Christmases Past”:
Next, the Dismemberment Plan’s take on Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas”:
Finally, JD McPherson’s soulful “Twinkle (Little Christmas Lights)”
On the Sunday before Christmas, my son Peter & I joined the Boston Caroling Mob jauntily wassailing from the Green St. MBTA station to nearby homes in Jamaica Plain singing cheerfully and in harmony. The leaders of SingPositive, JP are also in charge of the Caroling Mob so there were some familiar faces among the nearly 100 carolers of all ages. We were well-received by the residents of the houses we serenaded – one of whom even posted a video of us on Facebook – and received hot drinks and cookies at the JP Cohousing for a finale.
Here we are singing “Carol of the Bells:”
This is the first time I’ve ever gone Christmas caroling anywhere and I hope it won’t be my last because it was great fun.
There’s no place like home for the holidays, and Boston is our holiday home. With a week off from work and school, my wife Susan, son Peter, and baby Kay sought and found many adventures including: The Museum of Science, Boston Common, The Children’s Museum, The New England Aquarium, The Christmas Revels, The Larz Anderson Auto Museum and Park, and Edaville USA. Thanks to the Boston Public Library for providing the museum passes that allowed free entrance to the Museum of Science, Aquarium, and Auto Museum.
Some of my favorite photos are below. If you want to see more, check out my online photo slideshow.
San T. Rex is coming to town.
Leatherback Turtle surfaces for a snack in the giant ocean tank.
Anderson Auto Museum license plate collection.
The Edaville Railroad's steam engine
Big fun on the big wheel
This afternoon my family and I took in the annual performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge. The Revels is a family tradition and this marks the tenth Christmas Revels production I’ve attended (including a Washington Revels performance in 1995 and performing as a cast member in the 2009 Christmas Revels). This was also my four-year-old son’s second Christmas Revels and my five-week-old daughter’s first Revels ever. Peter showed exemplary behavior and was deeply engaged by the performance while Kay amazed me by actually appearing to watch the show at times when she wasn’t feeding or napping.
The Revels impress me each year by crafting a show around a theme with consistent narrative that logically incorporates music and dance from various traditions. This year’s production is set in a French fishing village on the Mediterranean that is hosting an annual feast that draws pilgrims from near and wide. Thus we are able to enjoy traditional music from France and other parts of Europe as well as traveling performers from the East playing Arabic music. The Sharq Trio steal the show with sets in both acts of Arabic singing, dance and percussion. The trio seemed to mesmerize my infant daughter at the very least. Salome Sandoval also lends her stunning voice as a soloist.
The center of the performance is three members of the Guild of Fools – Soleil (Timothy Sawyer), Etoile (Sabrina Selma Mandell), and Eclaire de Lune (Mark Jaster) – performing the annual pageant. Amid the music and revelry there is the lurking presence of the skeletal Boney (Linnea Coffin) who seems to be just out of sight of the villagers on stage, but very frightening to at least one four-year-old boy in the audience. At a key moment in the first act, Boney and her skeleton crew seize the light from the world plunging the holiday performance into darkness. The fools thus are given the quest of finding their namesake light sources – the moon, the stars, and the sun – which they do with plenty of song and dance and a nativity play along the way. The Revels crew deserve a lot of credit for the stage design featuring multiple layers of scaffolding for the performers and a Ship of Fools upon which the featured trio sail to fish for the reflection of the moon. The costuming is also brilliant, especially Soleil, Etoile, and Eclaire de Lune’s outfits for the concluding mummer’s play. And the makeup helped make Boney and the other skeletons the scariest things I’ve ever seen in a Revels’ production.
The final performance is Thursday December 29th at 1 pm, so get tickets and go see the show if you can. If you’re reading this after the fact, make sure to check out The Revels’ website for future events.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m a big fan of Revels and their annual Christmas Revels performances at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. I was excited and honored to attend the dress rehearsal performance of this year’s 40th anniversary production of the Christmas Revels on Thursday, December 16th. Had I better journalistic standards I would have used this scoop to get my review up before the show opened on Friday night, but at least at this point there are still eleven more shows to go.
This year’s Christmas Revels returns to a familiar setting, Haddon Hall, an English manor house that was the scene of the first and many subsequent Revels performances. This time the show is set in the 1920s and the 10th Duke of Rutland with his wife and children are making one last visit to the long abandoned house before it is demolished to make way for a motorway. I never before realized that Haddon Hall is a real place and the characters in these Revels are based upon real people who in fact saved and renovated Haddon Hall in the 1920s. The story told in the Revels performance of course is a beautiful fiction but one that contains deeper moral truths about family, ritual, and place.
In the performance, the spirits of the Duke of Rutland’s ancestors emerge from the walls to celebrate the solstice. This gives the chorus and instrumentalists the very enjoyable opportunity to perform music and stories from various eras – medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian – a Revels’ clip-show of sorts. While building on the historic traditions of England, the show also builds on Revels traditions of the past 40 years. Sanders Theatre is very much our Haddon Hall for the families and friends of the Revels who come each year.
I’ll try not to give too much away, but here are some of the highlights of the show (don’t read if you want to be completely surprised):
- The emergence of the spirits in white shrouds to the “Cries of London” is eerie and creepy in a beautiful way. When the chorus makes it on stage and remove the shrouds so that there costumes are visible for the first time is a big wow moment for me.
- The children’s chorus is excellent as always and seem to be more integrated into performing with the adult chorus, especially on the lovely piece “On Christmas Night.”
- All the actors put in a great performance, particularly Tim Sawyer as the Duke and Emma Jaster as a mute jester.
- Harriet Bridges plays the Duchess and also provides a soaring soprano for pieces like “Down in Yon Forest.”
- The traditional mummers play of St. George in the Dragon is always entertaining and the brand new dragon (part costume/part puppetry) really steals the show.
- A sing-a-long of “Let’s All Go Down the Strand” is joyful and exuberant, and as David Coffin noted they really do make it fit into the show.
- The real showstopper for me is the chorus’ performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s “There Shall A Star From Jacob Come Forth.” The intertwining of voices and the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble is breathtaking.
I’ll be returning to Sanders Theatre on December 26th to catch a Revels’ matinée with my wife, son, and mother. In the meantime, if you live anywhere near Cambridge and want to celebrate the holidays, go see this show!
Other reviews & articles:
As reported earlier, I’m participating as a member of the Roaring Gap Chorus in this year’s Christmas Revels at Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA. The show has been great thus far and tickets are still available for the final six performances. Come out and see us and don’t just take my word for it, read these lovely reviews from:
I’ve promoted the Revels before on my blog because it is an organization that promotes song and dance, participation, community and tradition. This is most apparent from the annual Christmas Revels productions at the Sanders Theater in Cambridge, MA.
This year I have extra reason to be excited about the Revels as I’ve managed to get myself into the Revels Chorus. Despite my little experience and trouble remembering my bass parts I’ve been warmly welcomed into the community of performers at the heart of the Christmas Revels. Now all we need is you to come be an enthusiastic audience member. I guarantee you will have a wonderful time.
There will be 17 performances between Dec. 11-27 and tickets are on sale now!
It’s Christmas Eve. As you wrap (or unwrap) gifts, sip eggnog, and/or get ready for Midnight Mass, you’ll want to start off by clicking the youtube link below:
Then you’ll want to click this youtube link, and replay it in a loop for about 3-4 hours.
If you need more music, check out these podcasts. I guarantee that there is good holiday themed stuff here that you’ll never here on that Light Rock station that’s playing holiday music 24/7:
For a more sobering Christmas Eve viewing experience, watch this vintage propaganda film “Christmas Under Fire” about Christmas in England during the Blitz:
Via Crooked Timber.
Finally, for even more uplifting memories, celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Apollo 8′s Journey to the Moon.
Happy Christmas to all!