Theater Review: The Haunted Life at Merrimack Repertory Theatre


Play: The Haunted Life
Venue: Merrimack Repertory Theatre
Writer: Sean Daniels
Director: Sean Daniels and christopher oscar peña

Susan and I enjoyed a night out at the theater last night thanks to tickets I won from WERS.  We saw a new play called The Haunted Life at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA which is based on a novel written by Lowell’s own Jack Kerouac.  Kerouac’s wrote the novel in 1944 but it wasn’t published until 2014, and it contains a lot of autobiographical details about Kerouac’s life.

The play focuses on 19-year-old the Holden Caulfield-esque character Peter Martin (Raviv Ullman), and begins in the summer of 1941 when he is home for the summer after his freshman year at Boston College.  One of Peter’s friends tries to encourage him to join the Army in order to find adventure, while another friend, Garabed (both played by Vichet Chum), keeps Peter up all night arguing about poetry.  Peter also enjoys picnics with his girlfriend Eleanor (Caroline Neff). At home, Peter’s father Joe (Joel Colonder) – himself a French Canadian immigrant – rages about the new immigrants destroying America.  Peter’s mother Vivienne (Tina Fabrique) worries about her older son who ran away to join the merchant marine a decade earlier and of whom Peter hardly remembers anything.

After fighting with his father over his racism, Peter also runs away to the merchant marine. When the US enters World War II, Peter leaves the merchant marine and tries to set himself up as poet in Manhattan, but is unable to make himself write anything. In of the most biting lines of dialogue, he tells Eleanor that he’s an “inactive poet,” to which she responds “an inactive poet is not a poet.”  Losing friends and family to the war, Peter shuts out everyone else in his life, and wallows in brooding despair.  Surprisingly, it is reconciling with his father that helps Peter to engage with the world again and decide what is important to do with his life.

The play is performed on a simple stage with few props against a backdrop of many windows fitted together.  The performers frequently deliver monologues that comment on Peter’s feelings and actions, that can be poetic or pretentious depending on your perspective.

Vichet Chum is probably the strongest actor in the show and displays his versatility in playing multiple characters.  Caroline Neff has a relatively small part, but also puts in a great performance, and also was the only actor who didn’t seem to be rushing her lines.  I was delighted to find out that Tina Fabrique provided the vocals for the original Reading Rainbow theme song, although I’m sure does not want to be pigeonholed just for that.  Fabrique may have the smallest part in the play but gives a depth and warmth to what could’ve been a stereotypical “mother” role.  I appreciate the casting of actors that encapsulate the modern-day diversity of Lowell that adds to the sense that the issues debated in a play set almost 80 years ago are still the same issues of today.

The Haunted Life continues performances through April 14, so if you have the opportunity, get yourself to Lowell and see it!

Theater Review: Pippin


Show: Pippin
Venue: Footlight Club
Date: September 21, 2018

Taking a Friday night date night performance of Pippin at the Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain fulfilled two long-term goals.  First, after eleven years living in Jamaica Plain, we finally made it to a show at the Footlight Club, a lovely and historic playhouse.  Second, I’ve liked the music from Pippin – especially the song “Corner of the Sky” – for a long time, but I’d never seen it performed.

I had a vague understanding that this musical was about Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, and his involvement with a troop of players.  Vague is more accurate than I realized. Pippin, Charlemagne, and the other characters share the names with historical figures, but otherwise have no historical parallels.  In fact, the show is designed to remind the audience that what we’re seeing is an artifice, a performance but on by a troop of players (who are performed by our real live actors).

The basic plot is young Pippin’s yearning to find meaning to his existence.  In the first act he joins his father’s army, experiments with meaningless sexual encounters, and plots a revolution to overthrow is father’s tyranny.  In the second act, he falls into despair and is restored to health by the widow Catherine, who owns a large farm.  While Pippin does not enjoy the daily routine of manual labor, he falls in love with Catherine and grows fond of her son, Theo.  The finale features Pippin deciding between the temptation of the Leading Player’s “perfect” but self-destructive act, or a quiet life with Catherine and Theo. It’s a much darker play than I imagined, and the music and the humor balances a sometimes cynical, sometimes sarcastic critique of the human condition.

The Footlight Club cast is absolutely wonderful. Andrea Giangreco needs to be singled-out for her performance as the Leading Player which she filled with exuberance and joy, cleverly uncovering the character’s manipulative and cruel side over the course of the play.  Mary O’Donnell’s performance as Pippin’s grandmother Berthe provided the standout musical number of “No Time at All.” Not only was O’Donnell’s singing humorous and heartwarming, but the ensemble helped the audience participate by displaying the lyrics to the chorus through a remarkable trick of opening trunks and suitcases.  I can’t imagine how long they rehearsed that!  The Bob Fosse choreography screams FOSSE, but it’s still awe-inspiring.

If you’re in or near JP, make your way to the Footlight Club to see Pippin before it closes on September 29th.

Concert Review: Janelle Monáe


Performer: Janelle Monáe
Venue: Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
Date: July 21, 2018
Opening Act: St. Beauty

First thing, the unwritten rule that one cannot wear a concert tour t-shirt while at that very concert is now null and void.  Following one of her costume changes while performing at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston, Janelle Monáe stepped onstage wearing an official Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer 2018 concert tour t-shirt.  One might think of it as product placement, but in the broad themes of acceptance, inclusion, and love expressed at this concert, I think it was another way for Monáe to say be yourself, wear what makes you comfortable, especially is it’s a shirt with a picture of your own face.

Among the crowd of adoring fans there was quite a bit of expression in fashion of clothing that was sparkly, had bold colors, and/or stated brave political messages.  I had the thought before leaving for the concert, “What should I wear to a Janelle Monáe concert?”  Not knowing the answer I settled on something like what I always wear, a short-sleeve, button-down shirt with vertical stripes.  Ironically, some hip young people complimented me on this shirt, saying that they liked the colors.

It was a very accepting audience, and the most diverse crowd I’d ever seen for anything in Boston.  All ages, races, and gender expressions were in attendance. Any fears that I would be too old, white, straight, and cisgender were allayed by the fact there was also an even older white, married couple sitting right in front of us.

Janelle Monáe’s concert was visually striking with Monáe generally performing on stepped pedestal. Her costumes were black and white patterns with flashes of red.  Scenes from the “emotion picture” of Dirty Computer as well as archival footage and more abstract patterns were projected behind the stage.

Monáe was accompanied by a five-piece band which included a stunningly-talented guitarist and drummer and synthesizer players who doubled on the horns, depending on the song.  I cannot find the band members’ names anywhere online, but I suspect they are members of the Wondaland Arts Society and have recordings of their own.  If you know there names let me know in the comments!  Monáe also performed with a quartet of dancers.  I hesitate to call them “back-up dancers” because they’re dancing was integral to the performance, and if anything it looked as if Monáe and the four dancers were a group of friends hanging out and partying.

Highlights of the concert include “Screwed” which became an audience sing-a-long with help from the video projection. Taking a page from Morris Day of The Time, Monáe glanced at her new outfit in a full-length mirror and ascended the podium to a throne to perform “Django Jane.” The ballad “Primetime” concluded with a stunning guitar solo that I felt was the closest I ever will be to seeing Prince perform live in concert.

That solo gave a Monáe and the dancers the time change into the famous “vagina pants” for a performance of “Pynk.”  The enthusiastic crowd even cheered the appearance of Tessa Thompson in the video background. The feeling of inclusion, acceptance, and  love was heightened during the performance of “I Like That” when Monáe took the opportunity to compliment the things she liked about several members of the audience.

Perhaps the stand out performance in a night of excellent music, choreography, and stagecraft came during “Make Me Feel.”  The song began with an extended dance break with backlit Monáe dancing in silhouette. The song ended with Monáe singing “baby, baby, baby” while the horns played “I Got the Feelin'” In one song that’s already the Prince-iest of all of her songs, Janelle Monáe managed to also pay homage to Michael and Janet Jackson, and James Brown, while confidently expressing her own identity.

The party continued with “I Got the Juice” that turned into a dance-off among Monáe  and the dancers.  Then she invited members of the audience to come up a “dance as if there lives depended on it.” For the young folk who made it on the stage it was clear that this was the greatest moment of their lives.  They took turns dancing to wide acclaim, and Monáe assured each of them that “you’ve got the juice.” Monáe closed out the main set with two songs from her Archandroid album, “Cold War,” and a breathtaking performance of “Tightrope.”

For the encore, Monáe returned to the stage to sing a “love letter to America” in “So Afraid” as images of civil rights and Black Lives Matter protests and civil disturbances. This transitioned into “Americans,” a positive affirmation of the American identity of people often denied that.

Due to MBTA construction and a long wait to get in we missed much of the opening set by St. Beauty, a duo from Atlanta who are part of the Wondaland collective, but I like what I heard and will check them out.

Full Set List

Dirty Computer (the recording of this song from the album, complete with Brian Wilson’s harmonies, played as entrance music)
Crazy, Classic, Life
Take a Byte
Screwed
Django Jane
Q.U.E.E.N.
Electric Lady
PrimeTime
Pynk
Yoga
I Like That
Don’t Judge Me
Make Me Feel
I Got the Juice
Cold War
Tightrope

Encore:

So Afraid
Americans

Reviews:

Related Posts:

Performance Review: Così fan tutte


Così fan tutte performed by the Metropolitan Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, March 24, 2018.

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: David Robertson

My mother is a subscriber to the Metropolitan Opera so she treated me to a performance of this Mozart comedy.  This is only the fifth opera I’ve seen in my life (after The Magic Flute, La Boheme, Semele, and Madama Butterfly).  This was also my first visit to the spectacularly modernist Metropolitan Opera House, and now I’ve seen a performance in all three of the main venues of Lincoln Center.

The sparkly chandeliers were a gift from Austria as a thank you for the Marshall Plan.

As for Così fan tutte, well it’s not modern at all.  The title is translated as “all women are like that” and is a misogynist depiction of women as unfaithful.  The performance begins with two sailors Ferrando and Guglielmo, bragging about the faithfulness of their fiancees, the sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi.  Their older, wiser (creepy old dude) friend Don Alfonso makes them a wager that these women cannot remain faithful.  The young men pretend that they are called to war and return in disguise to attempt to seduce the other man’s fiancee, which of course, they do within 24 hours and lose the bet to Don Alfonso.  There’s a lot of ickiness in all of the farce and it’s disappointing that  Dorabella and Fiordiligi have to apologize for their unfaithfulness rather than ditching Ferrando and Guglielmo for their manipulative deception.

The view from our seats in the Tenzing Norgay Circle.

Of course, the singing and the music is lovely.  I particularly like Kelli O’Hara as the feisty maid Despina who helps Don Alfonso in his plot.  And some of the gags are worth a laugh, if only because the Metropolitan Opera is very loose in the translations they display on the subtitle screens (one line about a cowboy from Texas was almost certainly not in the original libretto).  What’s remarkable about this staging is that it is set in a seaside resort modeled after Coney Island in the 1950s which makes for delightful costumes and scenery.  They even have a team of actual sideshow performers (and a live ball python) performing tricks on stage. But the best part was the stagecraft, especially in the second act, when most of the scenes were set on amusement park rides. One aria in particular was set entirely on a floating balloon.

This Così fan tutte is definitely worth seeing for its adaptation through a carnival lens.

Concert Review: “Weird Al” Yankovic


“Weird Al” Yankovic at the Apollo Theater, March 23, 2018.

Special guest: Emo Phillips

I’ve liked “Weird Al” Yankovic since I was a child.  I’m not perhaps a diehard fan, especially compared with the people I sat next to on Friday night who sang along with every word.  I’ve long appreciated that Weird Al is more than a novelty, but a talented musician, one who can effectively write and perform songs in multiple genres.  I’d also heard that his live shows are terrific so I’d been wanting to attend.  The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour features shows in intimates settings without props and costumes and focusing on songs Weird Al wrote instead of parodies, so I felt this was the perfect opportunity to appreciate his work as a musician.

It also provided an opportunity to attend a show at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem.  And of course my first show at the Apollo is for the whitest (and nerdiest) performer ever, which I feel a bit guilty about, but I did appreciate the photos and plaques honoring the legendary jazz, soul, R&B, and funk performers who made the Apollo famous.  The theater is gorgeous in the neo-classical style of early 20th century performance spaces.  I had a great view of the stage from my front row balcony seat, albeit at 6’1″ I felt that the seat and foot space was designed for a significantly shorter person.

“Nature Trail to Hell” was played in blood-red light.

As promised, Weird Al and his four-man band performed Yankovic originals, including many style parodies which are a pastiche of a particular artist’s music.  The highlights for me were “Mr. Popeil,” a tribute to “seen on TV” gadgets in the style of the B-52s, and “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” a tender ballad about a young man who’s getting hints that his relationship is ending after his partners repeated attempts to kill him.  I was also impressed by the light design that matched the music and the mood – blood red lighting for the slasher film promo “Nature Trail to Hell,” and swirling paisleys for the trippy Doors-inspired “Craigslist.”

The tender ballad “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”

Weird Al concluded the set with a medley of his most well-known song parody lyrics set to the tunes of entirely different songs (for example “Eat It” was sung to the Unplugged version of Eric Clapton’s “Layla”).  It was all very meta but fun.  For an encore, they played a rocking, straightforward cover of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl.” Al introduced the song by saying that after decades in the music business he’d finally learned how to play guitar, and this would be his live performance debut on guitar (I don’t believe either of those things are true).  The gag was that when it came time for the guitar solo, Al simply strummed a single, unfretted string.  For the finale they played the beloved sing-a-long, “Yoda.”

It was a fun night, and I’d definitely see Weird Al again should I get the chance. I found the setlist from online sources. Note that the “drum solos” were short and deliberately unimpressive.

Setlist:

  1. Dare to Be Stupid (Grateful Dead version)
  2. Close but No Cigar
  3. Generic Blues
  4. Mr. Popeil
  5. Nature Trail to Hell
  6. Craigslist
  7. Dog Eat Dog
  8. My Own Eyes
  9. Your Horoscope for Today
  10. UHF
  11. I Remember Larry
  12. Drum Solo
  13. Jackson Park Express
  14. Young, Dumb & Ugly
  15. You Don’t Love Me Anymore
  16. Bass Solo (theme from “Barney Miller”)
  17. Albuquerque
  18. Drum Solo
  19. Eat It / I Lost on Jeopardy / Amish Paradise / Smells Like Nirvana / White & Nerdy / I Love Rocky Road / Like a Surgeon

Encore:

20. Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young cover) (First time Weird Al played guitar on stage)
21. Yoda

Weird Al’s guitar solo on “Cinnamon Girl.”

See also: Music Discovery: Weird Al

Concert Review: A Tribe Called Red


Artist: A Tribe Called Red
Opener: YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV BOSTON
Venue: The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
Date: 18 March 2017

It’s been a long time since I posted a concert review because it’s been a long time since I’ve been to a concert.  But I couldn’t miss A Tribe Called Red, one of my favorite musical acts to emerge in recent years.  The three DJs based in Ottawa, Ontario mix electronic music with First Nations’ chants and drums in a style called Electric Pow Wow.  Their music is danceable but lyrically is politically and socially charged with messages from contemporary native communities.

The opening act featured YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear of CLLCTV Boston who spun an eclectic mix of dance tracks that got people moving on the floor.  The two DJs worked together at a small soundboard often crossing one another’s hands in a surprisingly intimate manner.  CLLCTV is definitely something I’ll be checking out in the future.

DJ NDN,  Bear Witness, and 2oolman took the stage around 10 pm with a simple set-up on one long table.  Projected behind them were repeating clips of movies, cartoons, and perhaps performances on tv variety shows depicting clichéd and stereotypical Native American images in a way of reappropriation of the “Hollywood Indian.” Unlike A Tribe Called Red albums where the musical tracks are distinct pieces, in the live performance they ran as one long and highly infectious dance mix.  Periodically a pair of dancers would come on stage, received enthusiastically by the audience, performing a mix of native dances and breakdancing. Their clothing similarly mixed traditional native dress with African-American hip hop styles.

 

The set seemed to be over soon after it begun, but checking the time I realized that nearly two hours had passed.  I long wished to travel to Ottawa to experience the Electronic Pow Wow, but I’m glad that for one night it came closer to home.  It was definitely a performance worth seeing.

A side note, this is the first time I attended a concert at The Sinclair.  It’s an intimate venue, but while small it didn’t feel crushingly crowded despite a sizeable crowd.  There’s a large standing room only space on the floor in front of the stage with a smaller mezzanine with balconies on the sides.  Looking at the list of upcoming performances it looks like The Sinclair has taken over the dearly departed T.T. the Bear’s role of offering famed but not superstar performers from a diversity of genres a place to play in Cambridge.

The Christmas Revels: An Acadian-Cajun Celebration of the Winter Solstice


 

It’s not Christmas until I’ve partaken of the Christmas Revels which I enjoyed at a Monday matinée with my family at Sanders Theater.  This is the 15th Christmas Revels production I’ve seen including one in Washington in 1995 and the rest in Cambridge from 2001-2006 and 2009 to present.  This years celebration of Acadian/Cajun music, culture, and history is among the best.  As an added bonus, the fire alarm went off near the end of intermission and we got to see everyone evacuate and the Cambridge Fire Department arrive.  My son hadn’t finished his hot chocolate so he was happy for the extended intermission.

Most Revels productions tell a story, but this one has a strong narrative of the French settlers of Acadie in Canada who make the land arable, how they become stuck in the middle of the wars between the French and British, and their exile and resettlement in Louisiana. Such a heavy history does not always fit into the joyousness of Revels, and the scenes of their villages being burned and the Acadians forced to pack up and leave are giving appropriate gravitas. It’s such a Revels tradition to have the “villagers” on stage smiling and warmly interacting, that when during a mournful song the entire cast looks absently into space with somber looks on their faces it is a powerful moment.

But lest you think it’s all sad, there was plenty of joyous celebration.  Here are some of my favorite moments:

  • the large tree on the set, central to the themes of rootedness in the story, but also used to project images relevant to the performance
  • the Revels also have unbelievably talented children in lead roles, and 12-year-old Lola May Williamson may be the best yet.  I even saw her take the time to lift the spirits of a younger child who couldn’t help yawning during the performance.
  • “Le Depart Du Canada (The Leaving of Canada)” feature the long march of villagers leaving Acadia, diagonally across the stage.  I’m pretty sure the cast circled around at least twice to make the line appear even longer.
  • “La Valse Cadienne de Noël” or the Cajun Christmas waltz
  • the part where we threw plush chickens around the audience
  • The Mummer’s Play featuring David Coffin as a caustic alligator
  • It would seem that the character of the doctor in a Cajun mummer’s play would be obvious, but I was totally taken by surprise by the appearance of “Dr. John” (played by Steve Barkhimer) and perhaps the greatest tonal shift in Revels history as he launched into a performance of “Right Place, Wrong Time” followed by the Dixie Cups singing “Iko Iko”
  • The all-women sword dance

The run of the 2016 Revels has ended but you can get yourself the album Valse de Noël and even audition for the 2017 Revels!

Related posts:

Photopost: Fiddler on the Farm


Yesterday we prepared for St. Patrick’s Day at Powisset Farm in Dover with performances in the barn by the Whyte School of Irish Step Dancing and fiddle tunes in the Cape Breton style by Claire Pettit of the band The Cottars.  It was a lovely setting, especially since the seats were set up in the kitchen where a cat rested on top of the oven.  After the show, we strolled around the meadows, the hayfields, and vernal pools.

Performance Review: Christmas at Pirates Voyage


While planning our trip to Myrtle Beach I was aware that my mother-in-law had reserved tickets for a “pirate show” but hadn’t really considered it much until I looked up directions to the dinner theater and saw the following description:

A 4-course BBQ feast is served while pirates perform battle sequences to music by Dolly Parton.

I suddenly realized that I was getting myself into something that could be awfully good or awfully bad.  Most likely a combination of both.  It would be AWESININE!

And if that description wasn’t mind-blowing enough, we ended up seeing the Christmas version of Pirates Voyage, in which pirate Capt. Scrooge learns the real meaning of Christmas. And then there’s a Nativity play.

This is very much the type of kitsch that requires turning off the higher function of the brain and enjoying the spectacle.  For while the crass nature of the consumerism surrounding this whole venture, not to mention the idea of pirates finding inspiration in the Christ child, is a big turn-off, I do love spectacle. I determined that with Pirates Voyage the parts are far better than the whole.  So I shall break down the parts for you.

Upon arriving and having pirate ushers escort us to take the inevitable photograph in front of a green screen and then into the gift shop.  Adjacent to the shop was a large beer hall-like space with a dozen long wooden tables and people gathered singing along with Christmas carols re-written with pirate lyrics.  I thought once the group ahead of us finished up singing that we would move into this space for the show.  Instead, after a couple of carols, everyone – both those in the large beer hall and others gathered in the gift shop – were invited to move into another venue for the main show.

As large as the pre-show area is, it pales compared to the main dinner theatre where two crescent-shaped tiers of stadium seating surround an enormous pool of water with a full-sized ships hull at each end and a floating barge-cum-stage in the middle.  Our seats were at long tables that alternated with walking space for the large crew of pirate servers.  The food was brought to us piecemeal as the pirate wait staff walked down the aisle with a basket of bread, a bucket of corn on the cob, a vat of soup, etc.  I did not have high expectations for food prepared for the masses but it was quite palatable, and I was pleased that they even made a decent pasta dish as a vegetarian alternative.

The show began with teams of scarlet and blue-and-yellow macaws flying low over the audience.  We were informed that one ship was for the emerald pirates and we were part of the emerald crew while the other ship was for the crimson pirates who sat opposite us.  All the pirates were excited to celebrate Christmas except for one: Capt. Scrooge. A rather awkward pirate adaptation of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” served as a framing device for spectacular performances of acrobatics, juggling, diving, and other surprises, including:

Review continues after the photographs.

 

  • Dancing, swinging on ropes, and for lack of a better term “pole dancing” but on very high poles.
  • Juggling.
  • High diving.
  • Jumping off of a big swing.
  • A sea lion performing tricks. My nephew told my daughter “That was a very talented sea lion.”
  • A really spectacular competition of pirates jumping on trampolines seemingly defying gravity.
  • A somewhat freaky toy land dream sequence, but also beautiful sequences of neon-lit dancers suspended by long pieces of clothe (there’s probably a term for this too).
  • A fire juggler who eventually set the barge and the entire lagoon on fire.  I may have been looking for the fire exit during this part.
  • And of course, the Nativity play.  I missed much of this while taking my son to the restroom, but returned in time to see the Magi riding live camels across a pontoon bridge to pay veneration to baby Jesus on the pirate barge.

Once the real meaning of Christmas converted Capt. Scrooge to join in the revelry, the show turned into a series of competitions between the crimson and emerald crews.  Some of them actually brought audience members down to participate which was a lot of fun.  There was a race to chase live geese, a race for live dogs to retrieve balls from the lagoon, and a race in which boats full of live children were pulled along by ropes by their parents.  BIG SPOILER: At the end the angel returns and says both sides win, which was a disappointment for my son, but lead into a singing, dancing, banner-waving, cannon-firing, mermaid-opening-treasure-chests grand finale.

As we’re reminded throughout, this is a Dolly Parton production, but if you expected pirates singing “Jolene” you’ll be disappointed (I feel that they missed a brilliant opportunity to reinterpret “Islands in the Stream).  I don’t know what a typical show is like, but for the Christmas version most of the music is traditional Christmas songs, sometimes with piratical lyrics, sometimes played straight.  Original tunes for the show seem to be most serviceable tunes about pirates celebrating Christmas to accompany the dance and acrobatics.  It was fine, but nothing memorable.

And so, I confess, I enjoyed this show.  If I have any concerns its about whether all the performing animals are treated humanely.  For that matter, I hope all these human performers doing daring tricks are given good salaries and health benefits.  Otherwise, if you’re in Myrtle Beach and looking for a heaping plate of cheese with a huge side of kitsch, Pirates Voyage is your thing.  And if you don’t think you’ll enjoy Pirates Voyage, you’re almost certainly correct.

The Christmas Revels: A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice


It’s warm and overcast out, and looking to only get warmer as the week goes.  We’re more likely to have a wet Christmas than a white Christmas, but I know the holiday is coming soon.  Today my family and I celebrated the solstice with a matinée of The Christmas Revels.  This is our (mostly) annual tradition going back to 2001.  The Revels this year is set in Wales, a land of beautiful singing traditions, poetry, and mythology.  I’ve never been to Wales but this show gave me a nostalgic longing for the place.

It should be noted that while Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones are famed Welsh singers, their was music was not represented in the show.  There were familiar tunes for the sing-a-longs – “Cwm Rhondda” and “Hydrofol” – which as song leader David Coffin pointed out, “you know these songs just not with these words.”  The familiar Christmas carol “Deck the Hall” was also sung by a choir of children, but in the original Welsh.  The children – who were excellent as always – also performed scenes from Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

There’s a beautiful scene near the end of Part 1 where Coffin sings “Daffydd y Garregg Wen (David of the White Rock)” accompanied by Haley Hewitt, while Emma Crane Jaster performing as the legendary bard Taliesen.  Jaster is lit from below and moves her arms like a harpist, casting large shadows on the roll-top desk ceiling of Sanders Theatre.  My daughter imitated the gesture, waving her arms by her own imaginary harp.  (And I was right in my memory that Taliesen is also the name of Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin). Other highlights include a group of rugby supporter singing a rousing victory song, some fine clogging, and a retelling of “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” with the children.

No matter where in the world the Revels is set, there are the Revel’s traditions.  There was a rowdy morris dance and “The Lord of the Dance” where we all spill out into the lobby singing and dancing (I can never get enough of doing that), there’s the haunting Abbots Bromley Horn Dance and there’s the mummer’s play, this year with the Red Dragon playing the role of the hero vanquishing the White Dragon of England for the Welsh.   We sing rounds, we shout “Welcome Yule!,”  we finish on “The Sussex Mummers’ Carol,” I weep.  Tradition.

I was entranced as – for me – the Revels never fail to please.  My kids were more antsy.  Welsh-language songs make no sense, and my son said even the English was hard to follow.  My daughter wanted to see a dragon and had to wait a looooong time for a four-year-old, but I think the dragon’s eventual arrival satisfied.  They soldiered through and I think they enjoyed themselves, although they wanted cookies too.

Performances continue through December 27, so get your tickets and go if you haven’t already.

Related posts: