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The Christmas Revels

The Christmas Revels is a singing, dancing, interacting piece of holiday tradition around here, and if you have kids, or used to be a kid, or are still a kid at heart, then this two-poem, two-dance, one-panto, kajillion-song event is for you.

The Revels is different every year, but the same. Every year it’s a new production: a new location, a new journey, with new songs/costumes/set. Every year it’s the same: a master of ceremonies (as it were), a “learning” at the beginning to teach the audience the songs it will be singing (texts provided in the program), the conga line (conga line?) of cast and audience clasping hands and singing “Lord of the Dance” as o9t6y line of hand-clasped humans weaves its way out the door and into the big hall where the singing and dancing continues until everybody’s out of the theater, thence commencing intermission.

What’s wonderful about The Christmas Revels is that it’s not an us-the-audience and them-the-performers kind of thing. We’re all at the Revels, see, and and we’re all part of the Revels. Many iõ90o-ppeople in the audience have been coming for years; it’s like a reunion of sorts. And those seven songs (this year) that the audience sings? Well, you could sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” instead and it wouldn’t matter because so many people know the intended song that you won’t be heard. But that’s the thing, The Christmas Revels are about being present, not being accurate (for the audience I mean; the cast was spot on, even the children’s chorus).

(Photo by Roger Ide)

If you are a fogey, a fuddy, or a duddy, leave it at the door because it won’t be allowed in. You will, but it won’t.

Below is just some (some, I say) of what you can expect this year:

  • Victorian England
  • Buskers
  • Hoop Skirts
  • Long sideburns
  • Mummers
  • Top hats
  • Chimney sweeps
  • Sea Chanties
  • Christmas Carols
  • Mr. Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan)
  • Crystal Palace
  • Actors
  • Bobbies
  • A parcel of children
  • A throng of grownups
  • A wallop of musicians
  • Tankards of cider
  • A carton of eggs
  • The Prince of Wales
  • Cinderella

The above list does not give anything away, nor does it give a complete snapshot of the event. Let me just say that “Vlad and Olga: Turks with Teeth of Steel” are worth the price of admission alone. There’s both a brass ensemble and an orchestra, for heaven’s sake. There’s a thing at the end that I’m not going to tell you about because I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s as d@mn near as magical as you can get in Sanders Theater.

(Photo by Roger Ide)

This year’s Revel takes place in Victorian-to-Edwardian England, and the story is thus: in a small village somewhere outside of London, Mr. Sullivan runs into Mr. Colcord, who is awaiting the arrival of the ship bringing a Russian ballet troupe to England to perform Cinderella at the Crystal Palace. Flu breaks out aboard ship, and the troupe is quarantined. This is bad because it was going to be a command performance for the Prince of Wales. Mr. Sullivan offers to put on some musical entertainment in place of the now influenza-influenced ballet dancers, and some local actors (of the famous “Distinguished Actors of the British Empire” group – consisting of exactly the two of them) tell Messrs. Sullivan and Colcord that they will perform Cinderella, but as a panto. So everybody goes off to London to do just that.

(Photo by Roger Ide)

Trust me, what has just been described does not (not, I tell you!) describe the action. I’ve left out the Paper Boys, and the chimney sweeps, and the carols, and the musical saws, and the night watchman, and all the other things I have left out.

It is worth arriving early and actually reading the playbill, because if you aren’t familiar with the history of England (Really? You don’t know who Queen Victoria’s husband was? Weird…) you will be able to read up on relevant bits and it will make more, uh, linear sense (the one of us who has not a single gene of European ancestry in him did not realize that there was an arc to the story; scratch that, he didn’t know that there was a story, he thought it was a series of somewhat disparate pieces of entertainment) (but enjoyed himself nonetheless).

It’s been two days since we attended The Revels and I woke up this morning with my brain singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” from it.

If you’ve never been, this is the year to go. If you’ve been in the past, this is the year to go again. I leave you with one word: Revelry. Because that’s what you’ll experience with the 2014 Christmas Revels.

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