The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge are annual family tradition. My first Revels experience was in Washington in 1996. After moving to the Boston area, the Cambridge Revels were an annual event from 2001-2006. We missed the show in 2007 due to a newborn, and in 2008 due to a blizzard, but have been regular attendees since 2009 (that same year I actually sang in the chorus!). So, I calculate that I’ve seen 13 different Christmas Revels performances. Each year is delightful and surprising in its own way.*
This year’s Revels is set in Victorian England, with music halls and the Crystal Palace playing center stage. The first act shows two teams of buskers competing on the streets of a Northern England town as the Crystal Palace manager Harry Colcord and composer Arthur Sullivan seek an alternate performer after a cancellation. In the usual Revels’ way, everything comes together as the buskers join forces to create a performance of music, tricks, and a “panto” of Cinderella. The second act is treated as a command performance at the Crystal Palace (complete with life-size wooden cutouts of the royal family in the mezzanine).
Highlights of the show:
- comic busking performances by Marge Dunn, Billy Meleady, Mark Jaster, and Sabrina Selma Mandell
- singing a round of “Row the Boat, Whittington”
- David Coffin’s solos on “It Was My Father’s Custom” and on the melodic “Christmas Bells at Sea”
- the sing-a-long and acting out of “When Father Papered the Parlour”
- the “Panto” of Cinderella, which while not a true Panto (oh no it isn’t!), we did get to shout “Don’t touch Billy’s eggs” several times
- And of course, the Revels traditions of “Lord of the Dance” (and dancing out into the lobby), “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “The Shortest Day,” and “Sussex Mummers’ Carol.” Unfortunately, the “Abbots Bromley Horn Dance” was conspicuously absence in this year’s performance.
There are five more performances from December 26-28, so if you’re in or near Cambridge, get a ticket and go!
* I also recently discovered that the Revels website has a list detailing the theme of every performance from 1971 to present. Now I need to discover time travel technology so I can go back in time and see each and every one.
Beer: Sgt. Pepper
Brewer: Cambridge Brewing Company
Source: 22 oz, bottle
Rating: **** (8.1 of 10)
Comments: Spicy and unique, this beer pours out golden with effervescence and a thin head. The scent is spicy & yeasty and the flavor is a peppercorn spice balanced with a caramel malt. I found it went well with a vegetable soup and quesadillas.
Beer: Spring Training IPA
Brewer: Cambridge Brewing Company
Rating: ** (6.9 of 10)
Comments: A hazy, golden-colored beer is defined by lots of carbonation and a thick, big-bubbled head. There’s a grassy bitter aroma and a taste of strong floral hops. Even after quaffing for a while, the head is still going strong leaving behind some lacing. Play ball!
This afternoon, my wife, son, and good family friend Craig took in the performance of The Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. The annual pageant of music, dance, storytelling, and drama focused this year on the pilgrimage along the Camino de Compostela in the Spanish region of Galicia. As a Celtic culture, the Galicians have their own version of the bagpipe called the gaita which featured prominently. Any piece featuring gaita and drums was a highlight for me. The largest drum resonated throughout the house.
The story of this Revels follows Everyman (portrayed by Jay O’Callahan) on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and onwards to the End of the Earth in Finisterre. Elements of Don Quixote are woven into the story as Everyman is knighted and joined on his journey by squire Sancho (Billy Meleady, who starred in last year’s show) and the tavern keeper Angélica (the delightful Angélica Aragón).
Usually the theme of a Revels’ performance is an excuse to tie together song and dance numbers, but this story of a pilgrimage actually maintains a pretty continuous narrative built around set pieces along the Camino, in a tavern, at a monastery, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, and finally at Finisterre. The sets and lighting are really remarkable in adapting the stage for the different places along the journey.
Highlights of the show include:
- the talent and hard work of the Revels’ children whose performance more than ever is fully-integrated into the show.
- the charming line dance when the pilgrims are greeted by the monks to the tune of “Alborada de Ourense.”
- O’Callahan telling the story of “The Singing Sack.”
- sing-a-long with choreography to “Fum, Fum, Fum.”
- puppetry and lights to enact the Galacian version of the posadas ritual.
- an amazing bit of stagecraft where a giant censer is swung like a pendulum over the performers on the stage (based on the Botafumeiro at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
- Jaime Jaffe’s solo performance of “Ondas Do Mar De Vigo.”
- a mummers play featuring a mustachioed dragon who performed the hammiest death throes.
There were some disappointments. Jay O’Callahan was hard to understand and I’m not sure if he was mumbling or mic’ed improperly. Sitting in balcony center meant it took a long time to get downstairs to participate in “The Lord of the Dance.” It ended just as we reached the lobby. While I would not rank this among my all time favorite Revels’ performances, it was still delightful and I recommend seeing it if you have the chance. There are four more performances before the show closes on December 27th, so get your tickets now!
The Boston Globe has a more-detailed review for your perusal.
Author: Claire Messud
Title: The Woman Upstairs
Publication Info: 2013: Books on Tape
Messud’s “Woman Upstairs” is her take on the character without an identity such as Ellison’s Invisible Man or The Mad Woman in the Attic, but in this case the nice woman who no one takes notice of. Nora is a school teacher who takes an obsession with the family of one of her pupils who are only in the country for a year. She ends up babysitting the boy, starting an art studio with his mother, and developing a romantic attraction for the father on long walks together. Messud makes her narrator Nora extremely unappealing in her self-absorption, and unreliable in her idealization of the Shahid family. There’s also a sense that the Shahid’s are taking advantage of Nora the whole time. There are some interesting internal narratives of a woman’s place in modern society and as the book is set in Cambridge, MA, some good local color. I’m not sure I’m convinced by the conclusion, which is somewhat predictable, but I don’t get the sense that it is as life changing as Nora claims it to be.
Rating: ** 1/2
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Title: Caleb’s Crossing
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, 2011.
This engaging novel set in 17th Massachusetts, primarily Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge, is the recollections of a Puritan woman Bethia Mayfield regarding the life of a Wampanoag she befriends as a child who takes the name Caleb. The language of the narrative carries the flavor of language of a colonial American woman although at times a modern, feminist view appears in the narrative. The novel is full of heartbreak and loss, but still there’s a great amount of nobility in Caleb as he adapts to English and Christian ways. The culture and religion of the English and native are frequently compared with the later given a grudging respect. Both the woman and the Wampanoag are subservient in this society and this historical fiction is a great attempt at telling their hidden stories.
Recommended books: The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper, Black Robe by Brian Moore, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick, The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, and A Mercy by Toni Morrison.