Fuse Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – Charming English Music Hall Edition

Reviews

12.17.2014

n classic Revels style, the unexpected mix of talents results in a wonderful mash-up of comic schtick and classical performance.

Billy Meleady and Marge Dunn as Victorian buskers in this year’s “Christmas Revels.”. Photo: Roger Ide.

By Terry Byrne

Longtime Revels master of ceremonies David Coffin greets audience members at the Sanders Theatre like the old friends they are at this celebration of seasonal song and dance. For many, The Christmas Revels, this year titled “A Victorian Celebration of the Winter Solstice,” has become an annual tradition and at the performance I attended, less than one-third of the audience raised their hands when Coffin asked how many people were new to the show.

That feeling of familiarity and community is central to the charm of the Revels, which has, for 44 years now, brought together professionals and volunteers – including a chorus of more than three dozen children and adults — for a theatrical event that encourages audience participation in the best possible sense. From singing rounds of “Row the Boat, Whittington” and “Dona Nobis Pacem” to the collective dance out into the lobby to the tune of “The Lord of the Dance,” The Christmas Revels offers a wonderful reminder of the communal spirit of the season.

Coffin, who has performed with The Revels since 1980, serves as a gentle guide to the proceedings, leading the audience in community singing, joining the Pinewoods Morris Men for the “Morris Dance,” and then stepping out of the way for the theatrical section of the show, which offers an old-time English musical hall version of Christmas set in London’s legendary Crystal Palace. The first act is made up of a selection of traditional tunes and dances that showcase the talent and enthusiasm of the company, including the Cheapside Children singing the chimney sweep song “I’ll Be Up Your Way Next Week,” a medley of 17th and 18th century children’s songs and games, a “Marshfield Paper Boys Play,” featuring some wildly costumed heroes, and a lush full chorus performance of “He That Shall Endure to the End,” from Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah.

The second act shifts from general songs to a storyline specifically tailored to the Victorian Celebration theme. Director Patrick Swanson crafts a frame around the music and dance that is inspired by a chance streetcorner meeting between old school chums (David Gullette and Walter Locke), one of whom is the manager of the Crystal Palace, the other is married to a former music hall star (Sara deLima). Before you can shout “Welcome, Yule!” the producer needs a last-minute substitute for an act that has cancelled: the former music hall star and two pairs of talented buskers (Marge Dunn and Billy Meleady and Mark Jaster and Sabrina Selma Mandell) are enlisted to save the day.

kidscandles.jpg

The Revels children perform a Victorian carol in this year’s “Christmas Revels.” Photo: Roger Ide.

In classic Revels style, the unexpected mix of talents results in a wonderful mash-up of comic schtick and classical performance. The act opens with “Hail to Britannia!,” a tribute to Prince Albert and two of his children who are attending the show (in the form of a lifesize cutout). Coffin sings Arthur Sullivan’s “Christmas Bells at Sea,” “Away in a Manger,” and does the annual reading of Susan Cooper’s 1977 poem “The Shortest Day.” Within the “story” frame, deLima does a terrific job creating the feel of a music hall performer: she not only sings a clever song (“Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way”) beautifully, but plays to the audience nimbly, pulling them right into the fun of singing along with the chorus of “Down at the Old Bull and Bush.”

The buskers get to perform some funny slapstick in a “Cinderella” panto, which is perfectly appealing for the younger audience members.

By the time we reach the “Sussex Mummers’ Carol” at the end of the show, even the most cynical audience member will find it impossible not to sing along.

share this story on social media

Related Stories
See More
Blogs
11.23.2021
Thanks Giving

Read More

Blogs
10.08.2021
Meet Arkansas Light, Christmas Revels Production Stage Manager

Read More

Blogs
09.22.2021
Artist Spotlight: Ken Field

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
01.26.2021
Volunteer Spotlight: Haley Fisher

Read More

Reviews
12.29.2020
The Sleepless Critic Review: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment,

Read More

Reviews
12.23.2020
Review: Christmas Classics – Virtual Editions and Good as New!!

Read More

Reviews
12.19.2020
Boston Globe Review: This virtual Christmas Revels is a virtual triumph

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
11.10.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Rachel Grygorcewicz

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
10.29.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Nick Browse

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
10.01.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Ross Hall

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
08.26.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Harvey Cohen

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
08.05.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Cathie Ghorbani

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
07.07.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Mari Young

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
06.30.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: Julie Smith

Read More

Blogs
05.19.2020
David Zooms to Perkins

Read More

Volunteer Spotlight
05.13.2020
Volunteer Spotlight: John Recroft

Read More

Blogs
04.30.2020
MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

Read More

Reviews
12.19.2019
Review: Christmas Revels Brings Its Special Cheer to Depression Era America

Read More

Reviews
12.19.2019
BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS REVELS: A Long Tradition of Community Forged Through

Read More

Reviews
12.17.2019
Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – American Version

Read More

Reviews
12.16.2019
REVIEW: Nearly 50, Christmas Revels is better than ever

Read More

Reviews
12.14.2019
REVIEW: This Christmas Revels goes to the American heartland

Read More

Blogs
11.21.2019
Thanksgiving

Read More

Blogs
06.21.2019
Solstice Duality

Read More

Blogs
03.19.2019
Happy Spring!

Read More

Reviews
12.20.2018
REVIEW: Christmas Revels Celebrates the ‘Other’ Great White North

Read More

Reviews
12.18.2018
REVIEW: ‘The Christmas Revels’ points north

Read More

Reviews
12.18.2018
Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – A Wonderful Nordic Celebration

Read More

Blogs
11.12.2018
Just Add Audience

Read More

Blogs
06.21.2018
The Longest Day

Read More

Blogs
05.16.2018
A Magical Experience: The Making of a CD

Read More

Blogs
02.14.2018
Malibu 2018

Read More

Reviews
12.27.2017
REVIEW: Revels’ ‘Venetian Celebration’ glitters

Read More

Reviews
12.13.2017
REVIEW: Old World Music, Comedy from Renaissance Era Lights Up Christmas Revels

Read More

Blogs
12.12.2017
St. Nicholas in Bohemia: Mikulas Eve

Read More

Reviews
12.10.2017
REVIEW: A handsome ‘Christmas Revels’ brings the party to Venice

Read More

Reviews
12.01.2017
A liberating holiday performance

Read More

Blogs
11.30.2017
The Master of the Revels

Read More

Blogs
06.21.2017
The Solstice Stands Revealed

Read More

Announcements
06.15.2017
Revels is here! Revels is here!

Read More

Blogs
05.24.2017
Striding Arches

Read More

Blogs
04.18.2017
Moonlighting with Shakespeare

Read More

Blogs
02.23.2017
What Blizzard?

Read More

Reviews
12.14.2016
Christmas Revels Enchants with Celebration of Acadian, Cajun Cultures

Read More

Announcements
12.12.2016
The Holy and the Broken Hallelujah Or How I learned to stop

Read More

Reviews
12.12.2016
This Acadian-Cajun Christmas Revels lets the good times roll

Read More

Reviews
12.04.2016
Annual Christmas Revels’ production fills the stage with delight

Read More

Blogs
06.06.2016
A Music Director Reflects

Read More

Blogs
04.11.2016
Fenway’s Ritual Earth

Read More

Announcements
03.08.2016
Welcome to Our New Music Director

Read More

Blogs
02.17.2016
Reflections on Malibu

Read More

Reviews
12.14.2015
‘Christmas Revels’ finally makes it to Wales

Read More

Blogs
12.10.2015
Christmas Revels – Looking Back and Looking Forward

Read More

Blogs
10.26.2015
Dylan Thomas: the intersection where poetry and drama meet

Read More

Announcements
09.16.2015
Revels Music Director George Emlen Announces His Retirement

Read More

Blogs
08.24.2015
Giving Voice

Read More

Blogs
07.17.2015
A Revels Director in Wales

Read More

Blogs
06.19.2015
Summer solstice: the year’s circus act

Read More

Reviews
06.12.2015
The Boston Globe profiles harpist Maeve Gilchrist and Revels FRINGE

Read More

Announcements
05.27.2015
Reporting on Education at Revels

Read More

Blogs
05.11.2015
The Great Flying Machine Race

Read More

Blogs
05.01.2015
The Wheel of the World

Read More

Blogs
04.13.2015
What’s Your Version of the Revels Elephant?

Read More

Announcements
01.26.2015
Farewell from Steve

Read More

Announcements
01.14.2015
Summer Camp

Read More

Reviews
12.17.2014
Fuse Theater Review: The Christmas Revels – Charming English Music Hall Edition

Read More

Reviews
12.17.2014
The Boston Globe Review: For Christmas Revels, a welcome return to Victorian

Read More

Reviews
12.16.2014
Events Insider Review: Christmas Revels Brings Victorian Dance Hall Celebration to Sanders

Read More

Reviews
12.15.2014
TAB Newspapers Theater Review: Revels transports audiences to Victorian England

Read More

Blogs
12.11.2014
The Crystal Palace

Read More

Blogs
09.16.2014
Don’t Blame Persephone

Read More

Blogs
07.07.2014
From the FRINGE: Who’s Maeve Listening to?

Read More

Blogs
06.20.2014
Solstice Fires

Read More

Blogs
04.25.2014
Patriot’s Day – My Favorite Holiday

Read More

Announcements
04.14.2014
A Forum on Arts Funding

Read More

Blogs
03.18.2014
Spring Forward

Read More

Blogs
03.03.2014
The Itinerant Musician

Read More

Announcements
02.05.2014
Welcome to the Revels blog

Read More

Stay up to date
with Revels.
Sign up to receive email updates on performances, events, and news coming from Revels.