REVIEW: Fueled by a nostalgic rock soundtrack and a charismatic storyteller, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Wild Horses’ a lively and momentous tale

Nothing brings back memories quite like a song.

The power of music is in full force in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) production of Alison Gregory’s Wild Horses streaming on demand through Sunday, October 17.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre previously offered the production in person from September 15 through October 3 at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, Massachusetts.  The show contains mature language and some adult themes. Click here for more information and tickets to this virtual performance.

Directed with heart and humor by Courtney Sale, Wild Horses delves into the life of the mother of a teenage daughter, portrayed with a blend of lively charm and excitable nervousness by Leenya Rideout, as she gets wrapped up recalling her story of a special California summer during her 13th year in the 70s while onstage at an open mic night.  Rideout evokes a sense of adventure during this musically-fueled Moth Radio Hour featuring lyrics from 70s greats Rolling Stones, Heart, Van Morrison, America, and more.

Having delivered a likable performance in the 2020 indie film, Love, Repeat, Rideout further showcases her dynamic range in this meatier Wild Horses role with a humorous, heartfelt and sometimes raunchy performance.  See what Sleepless Critic had to say about Rideout in Love, Repeat here

With a love for music almost as much as horses, Rideout sings, strums an acoustic guitar, and proves an energetic and engaging storyteller sharing her experiences from a studious perfectionist to a teenager not afraid to break a few rules with the encouragement from her daring friends.   With no shortage of excitement, scandal, humor, and heartache, Rideout’s onstage demeanor switches from responsible mother in need of a night out to wide eyed, youthful innocent with all the angst that goes with it.  She blends what she remembers with her current wisdom, dwelling in the sacredness of youth. Ranging from teenage pranks to rites of passage, Rideout recalls these stories with wistfulness and passion, interacting with the audience like old friends.

Costume designer A. Lee Viliesis has Rideout ready to rock in an animal print scarf, Fender T Shirt, and ripped jeans and accompanied by guitarist Rafael Molina, she slips right into this adolescent spirit longing to be wild and free.  All that is necessary is a little courage.

Here’s to the ‘freedom takers’ with Merrimack Repertory’s production of Wild Horses continues streaming through Sunday, October 17.  Click here for more information and to get a closer look on MRT’s new season.

REVIEW: ‘Rock of Ages,’ Company Theatre’s grand return to the stage, is packed with big dreams, spectacle, and wry rock nostalgia

If you decide to visit Hollywood, California, stop by the Bourbon Room, a real bar and nightclub inspired by the legendary fictional bar and nightclub in jukebox musical Rock of Ages.  The Bourbon Room opened last year in honor of the show’s 20th anniversary and if it contains half the wild antics of this edgy musical, it will be worth the trip.

The excitement was tangible as the Company Theatre prepared for their return to its signature indoor stage for the debut of Rock of Ages on Saturday, August 7.  The crowd was pumped for an uproarious good time as the booming sounds of 80s hits enlivened the stage and nostalgia took over not only for hair bands and jelly bracelets, but for a live show in person and in glorious color.

Caitlin Ford as Justice and Janis Hudson as Denise Dupree Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford, musically directed by Steve Bass, and choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest, The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. This show is not for young kids. Please note this show run has some rotating cast members.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Packed with colorful characters doused with a mix of rock raunchiness and self aware humor, Rock of Ages holds a mirror up to the era of excess and distinct self expression.  Steering this club is Brad Reinking as Lonny, the Bourbon’s impulsive no-holds-barred co-owner, resident storyteller, and narrator.  According to Company Theatre’s Director of Development Michael Hammond, Reinking improvised a portion of the dialogue with local references and contemporary quips the audience and not even the cast saw coming.   Reinking shines as Lonny, his strong voice and penchant for dark humor work well in a script that never takes itself too seriously.

Part love story, part rebellion, and mostly musical, Rock of Ages is set in the 80s on the Sunset Strip where idealistic Sherrie (Emily Lambert) and guitar strumming dreamer Drew (Braden Misiaszek) long for stardom and are not sure where to start.  They set their sights inside the fledgling Bourbon Room, an aging nightclub and bar in danger of being shut down unless someone takes action.

Shane Hennessey as Stacee Jaxx Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Performed by an intimate group of musicians led by Steve Bass, Rock of Ages is fueled by a wide range of 80’s hits that are clearly a trip down memory lane for some including Journey, Bon Jovi, REO Speedwagon, and Foreigner enhanced by Forrest’s intense choreography.   Emily Lambert boasts powerful vocals as wide-eyed yet determined Sherrie and does a terrific job teaming up with Caitlin Ford as complex yet confident Justice in a powerful medley of Quarterflash’s Harden My Heart and Pat Benatar’s Shadows of the Night.  Lambert also shines in a sweet yet intense rendition with Misiaszek for Extreme’s More than Words, Bad English’s To Be with You, and Warrant’s Heaven medley.   Melissa Carubia as spunky and resourceful renegade Regina is all spirit and heart for Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take it and light and amusing rendition of Starship’s We Built this City and Styx’s Too Much Time on My Hands

Shane Hennessey makes a big entrance as mysterious Stacy Jaxx (in a nod to another famous 80s rocker) to Bon Jovi’s Dead or AliveRyan Barrow’s vibrant set design is on point especially one scene in a nightclub bathroom.  It is easy to feel the grime watching that signature nightclub bathroom from the audience.  Janis Hudson portrays compelling Denise Dupree with a tough façade, dry humor, and a Joan Jett vibe while Christopher Spencer offers some refreshing and sometimes goofy comic relief as Franz.

The Rock of Ages cast Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

That is just a taste of the wide range of rock numbers in store.  A jukebox rock musical, Rock of Ages is best enjoyed as an extended MTV music video at a time when music was mainly performed on MTV. The rock medleys have cheek and sass and in the real world oozing with serious drama (where to start) Rock of Ages is meant as pure entertainment and each fun loving character a representation of a lighter time. You may find yourself bobbing your head, singing along, or both to the catchy tunes you may or may not have lived through, but nonetheless have stood the test of time in their own vibrant way.

Prior to the Rock of Ages musical on opening night, Company Theatre offered a VIP pre-show that featured plenty of 80s nostalgia and delicious treats including Pop Rocks, shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers, vintage-style cupcakes, and a special Ecto Cooler cocktail.

The Company Theatre presents Rock of Ages without an intermission through Sunday, August 22 at The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.   Click here for more information, upcoming events, and tickets.

REVIEW: PTP/NYC’s ‘Lunch’ rich, searing, and absorbing

Two people, immediately intrigued by the sight of each other, hesitate to speak to one another.  Yet they have such remarkable things to say. 

Steven’s Burkoff’s Lunch takes off from the start in fascinating and dense musings as Mary, portrayed with perceptive shrewdness by Jackie Sanders and Thomas, depicted with charm and gall by Bill Army sit listening to the sea’s crashing waves as their lives unfold.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTC/NYC

Directed meticulously by PTP’s Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli, Potomac Theatre Project (PTP/NYC) presents Lunch virtually through Tuesday, July 13.  The play contains some mature themes and is free to watch.  Click here for more information and how to support Potomac Theatre Project.

Lunch makes the most of every moment of its approximately 40 minute runtime through Berkoff’s rich and enthralling script and groundbreaking style of dialogue.  Letting the audience into each person’s thoughts and conversation, what makes Mary and Thomas mysterious while thoroughly engaging is the distinct contrast between what they say and mean.  Their lively imaginations and their tantalizing and sometimes searing observations of one another seem unhinged amid their marginally polite discussions at first.  Sanders is particularly astute at capturing Mary’s detachment while Army’s boyish and meandering charm make for some unique chemistry as their encounter escalates into a surprising conclusion.

Jackie Sanders as Mary and Bill Army as Thomas Photo courtesy of PTP/NYC

Passionate, blunt, vivid, and occasionally shocking, Lunch also delves into earnestness and loneliness in a most unexpected way. Lunch continues through Tuesday, July 13.  Click here for more information and PTP/NYC’s upcoming events in their 34 1/2 season.

REVIEW: Boston Children’s Chorus’ free virtual concert “Lift Every Voice: At the Table” ends season on a vibrant and hopeful note

Transitions have been a strong theme over the past year and a half and with that brings forth a tumult of emotions.  Staying true to this season’s theme, “Waves of Change,” the Boston Children’s Chorus depict a vibrant range of emotions through songs of comfort, pressing contemporary issues and dreams of hope of everyone together again in their final concert of the season, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Featuring special guest composers Sydney Guillaume, Omar Shahryar, and Layth Sidiq, Lift Every Voice:  At the Table was live streamed for free on Sunday, May 30, but is still available to watch on their Facebook page, and YouTube channel.  The concert also delivers information about their upcoming summer outdoor concert series, We Sing as well as information about the Kiser Scholarship, a memorial scholarship focused on community building and social healing.    

Though each song offers its own message of hope and change, Natalie Hemby, Lori McKenna, and Brandi Carlile’s uplifting Crowded Table and Omar Shahryar’s The Journey of Feelings portrays the dream of unity while reflecting on uncertainty and the exhaustion of the journey through this pandemic from a child’s point of view.  Crowded Table brings to life the dream and comfort of finally being together again at the table without worry by a roaring fire.  It’s a sweet, joyous, and memorable song that you may never want to end.

The Boston Children’s Chorus Virtual Choir Photo courtesy of the Boston Children’s Chorus

Omar Shahryar’s catchy The Journey of Feelings has its amusing moments, but underneath the beat paints a startlingly perfect expression of what kids are feeling from day-to-day over the course of the pandemic.  It’s an upbeat and urgent song providing insight into intense and overwhelming feelings and yet delivers a precocious sense of maturity expressing hope of life returning to normal.  Omar Shahyar’s There’s a Change A-Coming further enhances this sense of gradual change as they navigate through these uncertain times. 

Moving backdrops and colorful, innovative zoom cinematography enhance each song and it is wonderful to hear from Boston Children’s Chorus members from all levels and their reflections on the world.  It is also a treat to see the chorus outdoors from bridge to beach to city singing together at various times over the concert’s duration, but this is especially wonderful to watch for Mavis Staples’s inspiring Build a Bridge and Layth Sidiq’s spiritual, haunting, and rhythmic Reflection.

John Mayer’s popular song, Waiting on the World to Change brings its signature insightful flair but BCC enhances this poignant song with a moving dedication to emergency workers and glimpses of the state of the world during the pandemic such as the closure of theatres, empty trains, and elbow bumps instead of hugs.  Mayer’s timeless lyrics resonate profoundly while the world is in transition.

Photo courtesy of Boston Children’s Chorus

Delving into multiple languages and a unique, moving open, The Boston Children’s Chorus also reflects hope and uncertainty through the eyes of Migrants with Joel Thompson’s America Will Be as the BCC proclaims, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  Dany Rivera’s charismatic and powerful vocals depict struggle and determination with Gregory Porter’s Running (Refugee Song).

The Boston Children’s Chorus encapsulates distinctly what many are feeling at this time through their evocative vocals and strong messages while leaving this season on a hopeful note. 

Click here for more information on how to join and support the Boston Children’s Chorus, their upcoming events, and digital offerings.

REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage Company’s ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ a striking satire

It’s hard to miss the message behind TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever, a bold, semi-interactive satire that takes a deep dive into prominent social issues such as racism and sexual harassment by putting a contemporary spin into troubling pieces of history.  Taking cues from Dear White People, TJ and Sally 4 Ever is anything but a love story and highlights the frustration evident within each of its characters as they attempt to convey their own point of view.

Directed by Pascale Florestal, SpeakEasy Stage Company presents TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever virtually through Thursday, May 13.  The show run 1 hour and 35 minutes without an intermission and is not suitable for children. Viewer discretion is advised.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Resources for this production can also be found on speakeasystage.com and a panel discussion is available here after seeing the production.

Jared Troilo and Tah-Janay Shayone in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Speakeasy Stage Company’s TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever heeds social distancing guidelines through some careful blocking and innovative technology.  Though a couple of frames look a little awkward, the majority of the show flows naturally.

Sally, portrayed with levelheaded wit by Tah-Janay Shayone, portrays a college student who is starting a job under obnoxious, egotistical, controlling (and much more) Dean Jefferson.  Flailing about with a subversive glint in his eye, Jared Troilo delivers an unabashed, grimly humorous performance as Dean Jefferson.  Dru Sky Berrian as Pam and Sadiyah Dyce Stephens portray Sally’s caring, protective, and partying sorority sisters and Jordan Pearson as blunt and tenacious Harold will do just about anything for change.

Jared Troilo and Jordan Pearson in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

Though this satire at times misses its mark, TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’s unconventional premise and delivery distinctively portrays Sally and the cast’s exasperation as they bring to light the hypocrisies and arrogance within our society as each try to forge a path toward a brighter future.  Choreographed cleverly by Kira Cowan Troilo, a particular highlight involves a dance sequence between Pearson and Troilo that quite literally drives home the scene’s inherent message.  Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s colorful and detailed costume design from Sally’s symbolic outfit to a scene featuring colonial gowns enhances the production’s strong and serious subject matter.

Left to Right: Dru Sky Berrian, Tah-Janay Shayone and Sadiyah Dyce Stevens in ‘TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever’ Photo courtesy of SpeakEasy Stage Company

The show effectively takes a hard, long look tying in the past, present, and is ultimately optimistic for a compassionate future.  Speakeasy Stage Company’s TJ Loves Sally 4 Ever continues virtually through Thursday, May 13.  Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support the SpeakEasy Stage Company.

REVIEW: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Until the Flood’ a raw, complex, and gripping docu-drama

Until the Flood begs the question, “How do you want to be remembered?”

Director Timothy Douglas frames a poignant, moving portrait of a community in pain with Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s virtual docu-drama Until the Flood continuing through Wednesday, May 5. The content of this program is not recommended for youth under age 16.  This program was originally commissioned by The Repertory Theatre of Saint Louis.  Click here for more information on Merrimack Repertory Theatre and how to stream the show.

Based on real life accounts gathered in 2014 by Pulitzer prize-winning finalist Dael Orlandersmith, Until the Flood delves deep into the emotional and complicated perspectives and recollections of this community and how it affected each person following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Maiesha McQueen in one person show ‘Until the Flood’ Photo courtesy of Kathy Wittman/MRT

A colorful, makeshift memorial is strewn on a chain link fence shrouded in a blue, haunting darkness.  Sirens ring out in the distance amid tingling and powerful music.  Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s Until the Flood sets a foreboding undertone through Lindsay Jones’s chilling sound design and Bill Clarke’s haunting and true-to-life set pieces.

Encapsulating all the anguish, uncertainty, doubt, fears, and hope is Maiesha McQueen in a tour-de-force performance onstage as she takes on eight individual composites drawn from real life interviews in this one person show.  From a 17 year-old teenager to a 75 year-old retired police officer, McQueen digs into the heart of each individual and delivers the kind of multi-layered performance that flows with each individual.  From a subtle head tilt and a tumult of emotion brewing in her eyes to the careful movements and creaking in her bones as she takes on the persona of an ailing senior to the confident swagger of a teenager that feels like he can take on the world, McQueen writhes and broods with each character.  Dressed in colorful and consistent street clothes by Yao Chen, each perspective and recollection made by each individual is fleshed out and brought together by McQueen as she pours herself into each character and makes each stand on their own.  Her pliability transforms her stature, stance, rage, compassion, sadness, and anger “like the flood” over the state of the world. 

Until the Flood provides not only each individual account of what they heard, saw, or experienced of the Michael Brown shooting, but a deeper look into how each person lived their life before and after this harrowing incident within this community.  It is a raw, gripping look at how ugly and how beautiful a society can be and how easily friendships can change when people do not see eye-to-eye.  It delves into anger that can be unleashed too easily, anguish, sadness, harrowing fear, and unbridled hope in fellow human beings in spite of life’s sorrowful circumstances.  Most of all, it presents a fairly even handed, but complex account of what truly motivates human nature and how fear and hope takes shape.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located in Lowell, Massachusetts continues streaming Until the Flood through Wednesday, May 5.  Click here for more information and tickets.

REVIEW: Tensions run high at sea in Moliere in the Park’s searing ‘pen/man/ship’

Aboard a whaling ship in 1896, two powerful forces cross paths that could cause a disaster of their own doing.  Christina Anderson’s pen/man/ship is a rich, quietly tense production that deepens within the intriguing script’s discourse and reflections and flows into the production’s dark setting.  Self-righteousness, dominance, and trust carry heavy weight as Anderson’s multi-faceted characters become more complex as the plot thickens.

Skillfully directed by Lucie Tiberghien in English with French subtitles, Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  RSVP is required and the show is two hours with a five-minute intermission.  Click here for more information and how to stream the show.

Aboard the Ship in ‘pen/man/ship’ Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Capturing the illusion of being on a ship without the cast actually being on one is no easy feat, but attractive visual illustrations by Rocco DeSanti and effective sound effects by Daniel Williams depict large groups and cast members sitting side-by-side do not look out of place or jarring to the flow of the story.  Subtle technical details such as the gentle sway of the ship seem natural with the cast aboard.  One particularly innovative moment shows Jacob reflected in a mirror next to Ruby to make it appear as if he is standing in front of her.  The film flows so well from scene to scene without the quirks that zoom can sometimes cause. 

Kevin Mambo as Charles Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Widow Charles Boyd (Kevin Mambo) and his son Jacob (Jared McNeill) embark on their first maritime voyage to Liberia when Jacob meets seasick Ruby Heard (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and is immediately attracted to her mysterious ways.  Mambo as Charles pens reflections on his voyage by candlelight but his real motivations are unwritten. 

Pen/man/ship boasts an impressive cast including Kevin Mambo as obstinate, domineering, and manipulative Charles and Crystal Lucas-Perry as mysterious, headstrong, blunt, and stubborn Ruby sterling in their portrayals.   Both of these strong characters are more alike than they care to admit.  Mambo and Lucas-Perry are eloquent in their discourse and both have a commanding presence in their own unique way.  Their slights and verbal exchanges become riveting as the show progresses.  One is persuaded by faith and the other by facts, but both seem too emotionally invested for that to be entirely true.

Jared McNeill as Jacob Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Jared McNeill delivers an amiable performance as modest, shrewd, loyal, and sympathetic Jacob who struggles with his heart and his head.  McNeil and Lucas-Perry’s chemistry is earnest, yet complex and McNeill and Mambo have a warm and wary father and son camaraderie.  McNeill is particularly shrewd at seamlessly evoking his inner conflict with Mambo, evident right across McNeill’s face.

Bearded and dressed as a crew member faithful to the period, Postell Pringle portrays humble, fair-minded, and altruistic crew member Cecil.  Pringle has a welcoming presence as Cecil who often defuses tension as the show progresses.  Forthright, experienced, and respectful, he is well-spoken and has the discernment to navigate each character just as well as any ship.

Postell Pringle as Cecil and Crystal Lucas-Perry as Ruby Photo courtesy of Moliere in the Park

Pen/man/ship is a thought-provoking exploration of what motivates people who have the best intentions and how stubbornness, isolation, and fear can wield an ugly course and a stunning revelation. 

Moliere in the Park’s theatrical film, pen/man/ship continues live streaming for free through April 24.  Click here for more information and how to stream this free show.

REVIEW: Celebrity Series of Boston @home presents mesmerizing musical trio Dreamers Circus

One of the main attractions of virtual concerts is being able to discover new music anywhere in the world.

Inside Copenhagen’s iconic Round Tower that houses a church, library, and an astronomical observatory, three musicians deliver a mesmerizing musical experience as Dreamers Circus.  Warmly introduced by violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, this performance was filmed in Round Tower’s immaculate library as Swarm, a floating exhibit created by female Denmark artists Baskets4Life, contributes to the concert’s surreal setting.

Celebrity Series of Boston welcomes award-winning musical trio Dreamers Circus streaming through Thursday, April 15.  The concert premiered as a live streamed concert on Friday, April 9 and includes a Q & A with the group.  Click here for more information and for tickets. 

Comprised of violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, pianist and accordionist Nikolaj Busk, and Ale Carr on Nordic Cittern, Dreamers Circus draws from classical, Swedish, and Nordic rhythms to weave a collection of playful, breezy, and mesmerizing selections well suited to the band’s name while providing a haven in this dark time.

Among the many highlights of this performance is the quirky originality and chipper rhythms in their telling song, The World is Waiting from their latest album, White Gold.  The sunny piano and whistling medley exudes a lighthearted anticipation of what’s to come.  Pentamime delves into hypnotic rhythms, suspense, and building intensity while City Gardens, from their album Rooftop Sessions, offers a fascinating and intricate mix of soothing rhythms, bright notes, as well as haunting, eclectic, and electronic sounds that brings out the song’s unique vibrancy.

Busk introduces Kitchen Stories, a rich number that fluctuates between lively and tranquil while showcasing Sorensen’s nimble artistry with the violin and Busk’s switch to an accordion before joining together for a memorable folk reel.  

Hjerter To/Fangden Og Hans Pumpestok has a bright, catchy, and fanciful medley as Busk pulls double duty performing on the piano and the accordion.  Introducing what Carr calls “a poor man’s viola,” Carr duets with Sorensen for traditional Swedish song, Folkrothvalsen.

The concert builds to a thrilling finale with A Room in Paris and Prelude to a Song.  While A Room in Paris delivers an upbeat and joyful urgency, Prelude to the Sun provides a perfect blend of sonic and dreamlike harmony.

Not to be left out is the engaging and laid back camaraderie between the musicians as they take the audience on an intriguing and inviting musical journey that could suit any musical taste. Celebrity Series of Boston @home presents Dreamers Circus on demand through Thursday, April 15. Click here for more information and tickets.

Celebrity Series of Boston will present their annual Stave Sessions kicking off on Wednesday, April 21. Click here for a closer look at their season and ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

REVIEW: Christmas Revels 50th virtual anniversary delivers mirth, merriment, and reflection

For what marks its 50th year, Christmas Revels has been entertaining audiences by delving into vast cultures and recreating historical moments and holiday traditions with drama, dance, humor, and song.  Christmas Revels made its debut in 1971 and though it is limited to the screen this year, this engaging production brought a mix of new material while glimpsing some of their best performances in their long history. 

Father Christmas makes an appearance in The Christmas Revels annual “Mummers Play” Photo courtesy of Revels

Having never seen Christmas Revels before, it was a lot to take in and quite a feat to encapsulate the best moments in such a broad time frame.  Catching glimpses of some of their special guests, returning favorites, and new faces was an innovative way to recap a half century of productions, but it also had me longing to see more, especially as I glimpsed some of their best, most enduring performances.

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels is also available as a 2-CD set.  Click here for more information.

Statues: Paula Plum as James Otis and Richard Snee as Josiah Quincy Photo courtesy of Revels

Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre is as majestic and welcoming as ever even as it fills for a virtual audience.  The dark, wooden stage is softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.  Hosted by acting dynamos Paula Plum and Richard Snee as James Otis and Josiah Quincy who were immortalized as those legendary statues on the Harvard University stage and the only souls who have seen every Revels performance and then some, Christmas Revels blends humor, stirring moments, and a wistful trip down memory lane to witness some of Revels’ earliest performances as it gradually became what it is today.  

From humorous moments to joyful carols such as 1984’s Yorkshire Here We Come A Wassailing, Go Tell it On the Mountain with Janice Allen and Joy to the World featuring choruses from Christmas past and virtual Christmas present, and a serene Dona Nobis Pacem featuring renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Christmas Revels does not predictably explore its past in sequence, but in clever moments such as merging a past and more recent performance of a song  by various performers, setting a different tone to its enduring meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma with Audience: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs the peace round “Dona Nobis Pacem” with members of the Revels Virtual Audience Photo courtesy of Revels

One of the best and most exciting examples of this was in 1997’s and 2015’s Lord of the Dance featuring David Coffin, Neena Gulati, and Patrick Swanson as they explored eastern and western Hindu traditions.  Audience members were on their feet as enthusiastic performers led audience members to spill out into the Sanders Theatre’s lobby singing along.  1993’s Kukko dance featuring the Karelian Folk Ensemble stood out as one of the more exotic cultures while 1997’s Niska Banja featuring the Revels Women, New England Romanian Ensemble, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble revealed beautiful and distinctive garb.  2007’s Shopsko, choreographed by Petre Petrov with Mladost Folk Ensemble, The Village Band, and Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble offered memorable upbeat and bustling Bulgarian dance. 

Johnny Nichols, Jr. and Carolyn Saxon perform the spiritual “Hold On” in a segment linked to Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, exploring the ongoing journey towards justice and equality Photo courtesy of Revels

 Janice Allen and the Silver Leaf Gospel Singers took the stage in 2000 for a stunning, acapella version of Amazing Grace while 1986’s impressive Appalachian Clogging with Ira Bernstein and the Big Gap String Band and Jean Ritchie delivered a captivating Kentucky folk carol, Christ Was Born in Bethlehem.  Another indelible moment rested in a powerful medley of 2000’s Underground Railroad featuring Sheila Kay Adams and Janice Allen, Jordan Ashwood, and Cyrus Brooks, Silver Leaf Gospel Singers, Roaring Gap Chorus, Rocky River Children, Carolyn Saxon, and Johnny Nichols, Jr.

Christmas Revels’ ever changing repertoire is too numerous to mention every highlight, but there are plenty of surprises.

The detailed, rustic sets and the meaningful, meticulous costumes ranged from festive to humorous to haunting.  It was marvelous to witness the virtual technology that was such a big part of this production.  The virtual choir delivered moving, crisp carols and seeing the creators including founder John Langstaff and Revels Directors Patrick Swanson and George Emlen united in present time without actually being onstage provided some comfort that technology can still make some things possible. 

Christmas Revels is still available to stream on-demand through Thursday, December 31.  Click here for more information and how to support future Revels productions.  Click here for more information on The 50th Anniversary of Christmas Revels available as a 2-CD set. 

REVIEW: GBH’s inviting virtual ‘A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’ maintains warmth and tradition in 2020

2020 has been many things, but traditional is not one of them.  However, this year’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn brought back holiday traditions, beautiful performances, reflections, stirring carols, and dare I say a bit of normalcy to 2020.

With a selection of live performances and an option to watch on-demand, GBH’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn was brought into your home in a warm, inviting, and spirited atmosphere.  From a majestic, candlelit cathedral in Ireland to a festive outdoor step dance in Ottawa, Canada, it unconventionally included all the elements of what is beloved about this annual New England show and somehow broadened its possibilities worldwide. 

Host Brian O’Donovan and fiddle player Jenna Moynihan at Rockport Music Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Brilliantly directed by Jenna Worden, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn offered seven live streaming opportunities to watch virtually from your home Tuesday, December 15 at THE VETS in Providence, RI, Wednesday, December 15 at Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA, Thursday, December 17 at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford, MA, Friday, December 18 at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, MA, Saturday, December 19 at The Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, MA, and Sunday, December 20 in GBH Studios in Boston, MA  These locations are usually where A Christmas Celtic Sojourn tours annually.  A bonus encore presentation also occurred on Christmas Eve. 

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021.  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn would also like to hear what you thought of the program by visiting their Facebook page.

Celtic harpist, pianist, and Assistant Music Director Maeve Gilchrist Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Though a portion of the performers were at home, audiences were treated to harmonies created from multiple locations nationally and internationally while enjoying festive, international scenery.  For a person who has lacked the chance to travel the world this year, it was a more than welcome opportunity to take a glimpse and to share in some international traditions. 

From the stirring, candlelit opening of beloved carol, O Come Emmanuel sung in Latin by Cathy Jordan from gorgeous Sligo Cathedral in Ireland, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn transported audiences to Ireland and to other places around the world as they were unable to bring Ireland to the stage.  The show also boasted dueling harmonies simultaneously sung from Vermont, Scotland, and various parts of Massachusetts. 

Host Brian O’Donovan brought a mix of humor, melancholy, and wistful reflections toward this difficult year, engaging storytelling, and fond tidings.  Though this year has presented its challenges, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn still managed to keep the rituals and long-awaited music right at your fingertips delivering jubilant, soulful moments while still embracing winter’s dark and sacred stillness.

Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan with fiddlers Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

Thanks to Rockport Music, multi-instrumentalist and Music Director Seamus Egan, Assistant Music Director, Celtic harpist, and pianist Maeve Gilchrist, Bouzouki and Harmonium player Owen Marshall, guitarist Conor Hearn, and fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin returned to perform cheerful medleys and energetic jam sessions filmed in Rockport Music at Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport, Massachusetts.  Seamus Egan’s brilliance shone through as he reached for multiple instruments for separate songs and at one point reaching for a banjo for a joyful freestyle. 

Fiddle players Jenna Moynihan and Maura Shawn Scanlin with Bouzouki and Harmonium musician Owen Marshall Photo credit to Dan Jentzen

A traditional wassail in Edinburgh, Scotland, rollicking sing-along carols and dance from A Christmas Celtic Sojourn’s past, a peerless lullaby carol involving a newborn, original song and stirring new renditions of classic carols, a lighthearted percussive dance from Michigan by Nic Gareiss, and returning step dancer and choreographer Cara Butler reveling in her backyard to a jubilant tune in Ottawa, Canada are just some of the highlights of this carefully-executed, moving production.  There were plenty of welcome surprises not to be revealed here.

Spending an awful lot of time at home and not in the car, music is less of a tradition in my house.  GBH’s  A Christmas Celtic Sojourn created a haven of holiday comfort in song that though we are far apart, some rituals and traditions can still stay the same.

GBH’s virtual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn is still available.  Click here for more information and to enjoy the show on-demand through January 2, 2021