Christmas Revels Journeys To Wales (4 Stars)
Christmas Revels – A Welsh Celebration of the Winter Solstice. Directed by Patrick Swanson; Musical Direction by George Emlen; Set Design by Jeremy Barnett; Costume Design by Heidi A. Hermiller; Choreography by Gillian Stewart. Presented by Revels at The Sanders Theater at Harvard University, 45 Quincy Street Cambridge, through December 27th.
The Winter solstice fast approaches, and that means it’s once again time for one of Boston’s (or more correctly, Cambridge’s) most popular holiday traditions – the Christmas Revels. This is the 45th edition of Revels, with each year highlighting a different culture and its traditions. Last year we were taken to late 19th century Victorian England, and the year before we traveled on a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This year the production is set in the Celtic nation of Wales, and we’re treated to song, dance and theatrical vignettes from time periods ranging from the boyhood of Dylan Thomas in the 1920’s to the era where the legend of the Red Dragon first begins to appear in Welsh folklore (5th or 6th century). This year’s show features soprano Cristi Catt, as well as actors Billy Meleady, Emma Crane Jaster, and Noni Lewis.
As is tradition, charismatic baritone David Coffin begins each edition of Revels by prepping the audience for the half-dozen songs they will sing along with the cast. That includes perennial favorite “The Lord of the Dance” – the 1963 English hymn – that concludes the first act, with the entire cast joining hands with the audience in a serpentine dance that leads to the lobby for intermission.
Following the overture by Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble, the classically trained Catt opened the show with the beautiful Welsh standard, “All Through the Night”. Catt was a standout throughout the evening, both on her solo efforts and on duets with the talented Jennie O’Brien and Coffin. Catt and Coffin’s song, the romantic “Fair Lisa” was one of the evening’s musical highlights. Coffin, in addition to leading the audience in song, was also impressive in his rendition of the Welsh hymn, “Pure Heart”.
No Revels show is complete without Morris dancing (something I’ve never been a big fan of), but this year’s “Morris border dance” actually had me fairly entertained. Per usual there were a multitude of traditional folk dances, but the two gems in this production were “The Country Dance” – a kind of clog dance by the women that drew one of the evening’s loudest rounds of applause, and an intricate sword dance that had the audience oohing and ahhing throughout.
As with any Revels show, the sketches are always a highlight, and while there were none of the insane belly laughs that came from last year’s “Cinderella” Panto, there were some compelling Christmas (and St. Stephen’s Day) themed tales. “The Birth of the Taliesin” featured the talents of the lithe Jaster and the final “Mummers Play” (featuring a giant red dragon) was a magical show closer. Along the way there was an abundance of audience participation and a good time was had by all.
Another great aspect of this production is the incredible venue, the Sanders Theatre. Originally designed to host Harvard commencements and lectures, the theater has been host to varied productions since 1895. It is acoustically perfect and the architecture inside and out of the 1,166 seat theatre is breathtaking. If you’ve never been to Christmas Revels, now is the time. At one point in the show, narrator Billy Meleady says, “Seeing the world through the eyes of a poet, is both a curse and blessing”, but for the audience, seeing this Revels edition from the nation of poets is clearly a blessing. This is a terrific alternative entertainment for the holiday season. For more info, go to: http://www.revels.org/