REVIEW:  GBH’s ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ full of gratitude, wistfulness, and holiday cheer

As the world shut down last year and domestic and international performers could not take the stage on A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s usual tour around Massachusetts, GBH decided to bring the audience virtually to them in 2020.  From stunning Sligo Cathedral in Ireland to Scotland to Canada and various parts of Massachusetts, viewers could see a mix of Christmas traditions and scenery on location right from their own living room as well as experience traditional and contemporary harmonies performed simultaneously internationally through brilliant technology.  What hadn’t changed was A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s master of ceremonies, Brian O’Donovan who delivered a mix of humor, melancholy, and warm reflections through engaging storytelling and fond tidings.  

From L to R: Windborne, Brian O’Donovan and Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

This year should seem more familiar.  Host Brian O’ Donovan and a mix of renowned performers from around the world returned to the stage for A Christmas Celtic Sojourn to deliver glad and wistful tidings through uplifting Celtic step dancing, musings, music, and storytelling while making stops in Rockport and Boston. 

Brian O’Donovan and the Christmas Celtic ensemble Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Directed with a mix of festiveness and reflection by Jenna Worden, the live and in person tour included a sold-out show at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts on December 14 and at the Cutler Majestic Theatre from December 17 through 19 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The show is 90 minutes with no intermission.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Nearing its 20 year-anniversary, what this annual production and concert certainly masters is the quiet and stirring.  That is just how the show begins as A Christmas Celtic Sojourn welcomed the audience with crisp, a cappella harmonies led by singer-songwriter Moira Smiley accompanied by returning folk singers Windborne.  Weaving in contemporary songs with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, their chiming vocals brought distinctive warmth so prevalent to the production.

In front of a painted mural of a serene Irish countryside transforming from dawn to dusk by innovative light designer Dan Jentzen, remarkable Christmas carol compositions, stirring remembrances, lively Celtic step dancing, and rousing jam sessions or  Celtic ‘round robins’ brought beauty, celebration, and stillness into the season. 

Speaking of ‘round robins,’ the Christmas Celtic ensemble composed of co-music director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan, Celtic Harpist, pianist and co-music director Maeve Gilchrist, multi-instrumentalists Owen Marshall and Yann Falquet, Fiddler Jenna Moynihan, Kate McNally and Neil Pearlman on Fiddle and Piano, and Chico Huff on Bass, dedicated an uplifting and freestyle number to Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains who passed away in October.  It was fascinating to see how pianist Neil Perlman keeps the lively beat playing as his feet danced along. 

By candlelight and Christmas tree, host Brian O’Donovan recalls childhood memories in Ireland where Protestants and Catholics were brought together singing Christmas carols and the lingering smell of bacon wafted through his home weaving in anecdotes from Welch poet Dylan Thomas.  Brian also shared historical musings and performed a humorous rendition of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas cake

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley Photo credit to Matthew Muise

Singer-songwriter Moira Smiley also delivered a mix of reflective and ruminating lyrics with Days of War about hard times as well as the rich folk lullaby Johanna Dreams on banjo.  Smiley’s remarkable, round, and velvety vocals enrich each verse.  She also shares the stage with Windborne and Brian O’Donovan in a stirring and gorgeous rendition Silent Night, O Holy Night and with the entire cast joined in for a treasured and traditional Auld Lang Syne and Here We Come A-Wassailing.

Entire Company of ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ Photo credit to Matthew Muise

However, most memorable is a vivid gathering as the stage transforms into a warm and inviting living room with the atmosphere of family and friends singing around the piano sharing various Christmas carols such as Joy to the World.  The stage is bright and festive as Celtic step dancers join in this familiar picture of the spirit of the season joyfully leaping in velvet attire and bejeweled shoes led by Ashley Smith-Wallace.  It is a picture treasured for the Christmas season and reflective of what is soon to come. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through December 26.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

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REVIEW:  In these tough times, escape down Greater Boston Stage Company’s zany production of Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’

What are the 39 Steps?

Like so many Hitchcock creations, it’s complicated.  However, though this Hitchcock production is presented during Halloween season, please don’t let that scare you away.  The 39 Steps is based on John Buchan’s 1915 thriller novel by the same name, was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock into a classic British film in 1935, and adapted to the stage by Patrick Barlow.  Though The 39 steps will certainly keep the audience on its toes, it has more than its share of comedic moments sure to deliver more laughter than frights. 

Greater Boston Stage Company joyfully returned indoors to present Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller comedy mystery, The 39 Steps which continues through Sunday, October 10 at the Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, MA.  The show runs approximately 2 hours and 15 min including an intermission.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Directed imaginatively by llyse Robbins, this dynamic crime noir boasts plenty of vintage flair as well as adventure, romance, comedy, and suspense.  However, what really makes this show such fun is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

KP Powell and Paul Melendy in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

The 39 Steps pay tribute to Hitchcock’s body of works with a catchy story while spoofing some of his most famous works along the way.  Vertigo and Rear Window is just a portion of the Hitchcock Easter eggs run amok in this production.  Some of the dark and witty humor from The 39 Steps call to mind humor likened to other murder mystery comedy classics including Clue.

Shelley Barish’s modest and multi-functional set design, Daisy Long’s mercurial lighting, and Andrew Duncan Will’s exceptional, carefully-timed sound effects play a pivotal role in some of the production’s most humorous scenes.  Moveable set pieces transform each scene and costume designer Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful gowns, dynamic wigs, and tweed and paisley suits enliven the production’s vintage noir atmosphere. 

Taking on this production was no small feat for its four stellar actors who depict a total of 150 characters.  However, they were more than up for the task as they sometimes cleverly and quite literally switch roles at the drop of a hat or within seconds.  With impeccable timing and snappy chemistry, these dynamic performers bring to life a variety of accents and deliver a great deal of physical comedy while delivering sharp and at times quirky dialogue. 

Russell Garett, KP Powell, Grace Experience, and Paul Melendy in a makeshift car in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Paul Melendy portrays Richard Hannay with a mix of bumbling and debonair charm.  Set in Scotland, he is a man on the run after a chance encounter with a femme fatale in all her forms by Grace Experience, leading to a murder mystery.   What Grace Experience does particularly well is though she depicts each character distinctly, they all have the same familiar strength, resourcefulness, and truthfulness as the tale unfolds.  With Russell Garrett and KP Powell quite often after Hannay, it’s a madcap adventure with high jinx galore and likable characters that range from a ludicrous man with ridiculous eyebrows to a flirtatious and outspoken innkeeper.  Some of the scenes are arbitrary and self aware and a couple of gags get a bit repetitive, yet fit right into the production’s silly charm.

From L to R: Russell Garrett, Paul Melendy, Grace Experience, and KP Powell in ‘The 39 Steps’ Photo courtesy of Greater Boston Stage Company

Take a break from these difficult times and escape down Greater Boston Stage Company’s unconventional, madcap, and lighthearted The 39 Steps continuing through Sunday, October 10.  Click here for more information, tickets, and for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s 22nd season.