REVIEW:  ‘Christmas Revels In Celebration of Winter Solstice’ a clever and inviting return to the stage

Performing for a full and enthusiastic crowd and dedicating the performance to Revels friend Julie Smith, this year’s Christmas Revels offers a lot to its audience, but most importantly, it ushers in the excitement and gratefulness of being together again with a sing-along as well as emphasizing helping those in need.   

Christmas Revels’ audience sang live in Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and now until January 9, you are invited to sing along virtually from your own living room.  Be sure to download the program first and follow along to songs from the middle ages to classic Christmas carols to contemporary classic songs.   Directed cleverly by Patrick Swanson, The Christmas Revels in Celebration of Winter Solstice is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.  Click here for more information and how to see this year’s show.

Scene from the Mummers Play (William Forchion as The Dragon, Regie Gibson as the MC/referee, and Mark Jaster as Saint George) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

From last year’s selection of new songs mixed in with some of their greatest performances over Christmas Revels’ 50-year run, Christmas Revels is back to a bit of storytelling and theatrics while still tying in the past with the present day – pandemic times, masks, and all.  An unconventional battle with a dragon is only portion of this wild and peculiar tale where traditions are challenged and life today takes an unexpected turn for this lively cast during a caroling and Christmas party. 

It also weighs in the vintage with the contemporary while infusing its own share of lighthearted humor and enough fantastical elements to create a concise and innovative story.  Acknowledging our present woes, Christmas Revels offers insight and hope into how to best help each other through these difficult times. 

Christmas Revels boasts a large, collaborative cast which includes the lighthearted return of Paula Plum and Richard Snee’s quick-witted observational skills.  With dynamic chorography by Kelli Edwards, Tony Tucker, and Gillian Stewart, charismatic David Coffin returns as Master of the Revels leading an uplifting rendition of Lord of the Dance and beautiful a cappella harmonies for Donna Nobis Pacem.  Alex Cumming and the Revels Morris dancers also impress with the traditional and eclectic Pudding Jig.

The Elizabethan’s arrive! (William Forchion, Regie Gibson, Mark Jaster) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

William Forchion portrays pub owner Joe with Carolyn Saxon as his wife.  Forchion is affable and charismatic keeping a cool head as the pub experiences some unexpected surprises.  He shows off some fancy footwork in a drum-infused sword dance and his smooth vocals are also put to the test in a dual role that is anything but cool.  Regie Gibson portrays sophisticated and no nonsense Reginald while Sabrina Selma Mandell amusingly delivered cheerful comedic nonsense as Flunky, a seemingly dimwitted jester. 

Carolyn Saxon bringing the house down at the George and Dragon’s annual carol party Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

Carolyn Saxon gives an amazing performance every time she lifts her voice.  Her vibrant vocals shine in her warm delivery of Oh Happy Day, her heartfelt rendition of Lean on Me, and inspiring Someday at Christmas accompanied by the entire cast.

The Ha’Penny Wassail Children also do a splendid job as they join together for a festive “zoom” to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, their own sweet rendition of Someday at Christmas with harp accompaniment, and leading off a glorious Wassail medley while decorating a tree.

Elizabethan’s strut their stuff (dancing) Photo courtesy of Shep Ferguson

Heidi Hermiller’s colorful costumes varies from humorous ugly Christmas sweaters to festive pub wear to resplendent, gold embroidered and delicately laced gowns.  Jeremy Barnett’s hospitable and festive pub setting includes subtle sparks of hope and encouragement weaved into the surroundings such as a ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ sign by the bar.  With a glowing fireplace in the background, the warm atmosphere boasts a festively decorated room enhanced with lit evergreen trim wrapped around the entire theatre as Jeff Adelberg innovative lighting flashes to the beat as the live onstage Pickled Eggs House Band showcase a variety of music styles led by Music Director George Emlen and Associate Music Director Edmar Colon.

The Christmas Revels in Celebration of Winter Solstice continues its virtual run through January 9.  Click here for more information and how to see the show.

REVIEW: Led by CeCe Winans, Boston Pops Gospel Night rings in a joyous 25 years

Over the past 25 years, Boston Pops Gospel Night has stood the test of time as a glorious and revered annual tradition.  An illuminated brass backdrop, shining music notes, and a floating, celluloid film strip adorned the Symphony Hall stage while an enthusiastic crowd filed in for this highly-anticipated, one night only, 25th anniversary event.

Each year, Gospel Night features a special blend of acclaimed musical guests, a variety of beloved and new songs from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and memorable performances.  With multiple Grammy Award-winning singer CeCe Winans, a resounding, patriotic, monumental speech about freedom and peace, and rousing performances from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, the Boston Pops Gospel Night has certainly outdone itself.  It’s an annual concert with toe tapping reverence and a spirited finale that always brings the audience to its feet.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops, upcoming events, and more.

Warmly greeting the crowd and the orchestra was accomplished conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, who has been conducting Gospel Night for the past 23 years.  Click here for a closer look at Charles Floyd and his career.  Distinguished looking in a white tuxedo with black pants and a bow tie, Charles Floyd gave an appreciative wave before opening the 25th anniversary concert with Aaron Copland’s spirited Fanfare for the Common Man, as horns blared distinct and clear.  It was a mix of tender, powerful, and upbeat melodies that included Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor and Chadwick’s Jubilee, which culminated into a vigorous finish and wondrous applause.

Gospel Night also recognized what would have been the recent 100th birthday of the late President John F. Kennedy by paying tribute to him and also honoring award-winning conductor, John Williams, who was the subject of this year’s Boston Pops season.  Young and naturally charismatic Reverend Thomas Crowley who is Senior Pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church, passionately delivered JFK’s famous inaugural address, “Let the Word Go Forth,” a stirring and thrilling speech which remains especially prevalent today.  The audience was captivated as the Reverend spoke of freedom, peace, ambition, and achieving the American ideal of brotherhood as musical excerpts of John Williams film score, JFK and Celebration 2000: Journey of John Williams rose underneath.

Boston Pops CeCe_Winans

Legendary, Grammy award-winning Gospel singer CeCe Winans Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

 

The excitement for multiple Grammy award-winning singer CeCe Winans was tangible.   Dressed in a black and multi-colored floral gown, Cece Winans took the stage to roaring applause.  CeCe Winans is a flawless soprano whose vocal tone at times is reminiscent of Whitney Houston.  CeCe and Whitney collaborated together for the uplifting song, Count on Me in 1996.  With a joyful warmth and tenderness and as the Boston Pops Gospel Choir swayed and clapped, CeCe performed an array of faith-filled songs from her latest album, Let Them Fall in Love such as Run to Him, Dancing in the Spirit, Peace from God, Never Have to Be Alone, and the title track.  “Welcome to church,” CeCe exclaimed as she gracefully took the stage.  Many of her songs spoke about finding hope in despair, forgiveness, and in the state of the world today, how much we are in need prayer.  She concluded with a beautiful cover of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, Blessed Assurance, bringing the crowd to their feet.

Featuring a number impassioned performances from talented soloists, Charles Floyd continued to lead the Boston Pops Gospel Choir.  Soloist Suzanne Buell and Raymond Martin opened with upbeat, jubilant renditions of Celebrate followed by Carolyn Saxon and David Grandy singing King of Kings.  A particular highlight was Katani Sumner’s powerful, expressive, and bluesy rendition of When Sunday Comes.  Katani’s smooth version of the song hinted of Ella Fitzgerald in its delivery.

Each year, Gospel Night offers a grand, spirit-fueled finale.  Led by The Boston Pops Gospel Choir Artistic Director Dennis L. Slaughter, it is a party that could go all night long, if only they could.  One of the biggest highlights of the evening came from soloist Renese King, who sang a tambourine-infused, rollicking rendition of the classic Gospel hymn, Oh Happy Day.  Oh, Happy 25th Anniversary indeed.