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Entertainment Highlights: Revels Celebrate Irish Traditions

  • Kevin Quiqley, of Hartford, leads the audience in singing I Saw Three Ships during a rehearsal of The Christmas Revels at the Hopkins Center this week. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Kevin Quiqley, of Hartford, leads the audience in singing I Saw Three Ships during a rehearsal of The Christmas Revels at the Hopkins Center this week. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Children sing The King of Love during a rehearsal of The Christmas Revels. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Children sing The King of Love during a rehearsal of The Christmas Revels. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cast members Julie Frew, left, of Norwich, and Dana Burrington, of North Pomfret, rehearse a song. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Cast members Julie Frew, left, of Norwich, and Dana Burrington, of North Pomfret, rehearse a song. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jennifer Culley Curtin, left, of Washington, Vt., and Bill Shults, of Norwich, and other cast members dance. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Jennifer Culley Curtin, left, of Washington, Vt., and Bill Shults, of Norwich, and other cast members dance. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kevin Quiqley, of Hartford, leads the audience in singing I Saw Three Ships during a rehearsal of The Christmas Revels at the Hopkins Center this week. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Children sing The King of Love during a rehearsal of The Christmas Revels. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Cast members Julie Frew, left, of Norwich, and Dana Burrington, of North Pomfret, rehearse a song. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • Jennifer Culley Curtin, left, of Washington, Vt., and Bill Shults, of Norwich, and other cast members dance. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

Traveling during the holidays is stressful, but it can’t compare to celebrating Christmas on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, crammed with fellow émigrés en route to Ellis Island and a new life in the United States. What form that life will take, they can’t know for certain.

This is the predicament of the Irish immigrants in the 2012 Christmas Revels show, a production of Revels North presented by Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Arts, starting tonight and continuing through Sunday at the Hopkins Center. Set in 1907 on board the fictional Glenna Troy, this year’s Revels, titled “An Irish Celebration of the Winter Solstice,” follows the passengers as they make a winter journey to America, and make the most of spending Christmas at sea by invoking the dance and music of their homeland.

In between continents, the immigrants find themselves in “that sort of no man’s land while they’re on the ship, when they’re in between their lives and forming a community that will only last those particular days,” said Maureen Burford, the artistic director of Revels North who co-wrote this year’s show with first-time Revels director Helena Binder.

In the tradition of the holiday sing-a-longs held by Revels founder Jack Langstaff in his Cambridge, Mass., home, Revels North’s show this year is another celebration of music, dance and storytelling. Some years have found Revels North performing a show created by a Revels group in another city, but much of the time the troupe stages a new production, drawn from a variety of folk traditions.

“It’s not a known quantity before it happens,” Burford said. “Even if we’re adapting a show from other cities, we’re doing a substantial amount of adapting and revising. … There’s always risk involved in staging new theater. But I love that creative process of creating a new show.”

For this year’s Revels, Burford found a creative collaborator in Binder, her Thetford neighbor and a renowned opera director who, in addition to her work with the Lebanon-based Opera North, has staged productions in New York, Pittsburgh, Dallas, with other opera and theater companies. Binder brings “this level of theatrical vision (and) stage vision that is new and different,” Burford said.

Directing operas requires a lot of travel. Having married and moved to the area a few years ago, Binder wanted to find creative projects that would allow her to stay close to home, when she was approached by Burford to direct Revels.

“We got together and talked and we had a natural rapport,” Binder said. In her opera career, Binder has worked with professionally-trained actors and singers, but has also worked as the longtime director of the Legislative Correspondents Association Show, a roast of New York state government performed by TV and newspaper reporters who cover state politics.

The Revels chorus is comprised of community members, which Binder says is a departure from most productions she directs. “It’s a different kind of thing. But it’s great, because people are excited. They’re very willing, they’re eager to learn new things,” she said.

This is the 38th Revels show to be performed in the Upper Valley, and the first to be set aboard a transatlantic voyage.

The immigrants traveling to America on the Glenna Troy in 1907 are a few generations removed from ancestors who fled Ireland in the midst of the Potato Famine of the 1840s, a crop blight that led to mass starvation that claimed the life of one out of every eight Irish people. In many cases, these émigrés are bound for cities like New York, Boston or Chicago, where earlier waves of family members and friends established communities.

Compared to their ancestors, this group was “a little more prosperous and a little more set up in the United States,” Burford said. All the same, many led hardscrabble lives, and had little to offer in the way of material gifts — hence the large role of sharing music and dance in this holiday celebration.

“This would be what those people were sharing on Christmas, because they wouldn’t have the kind of gifts to give one another,” Binder said. “If they were on board a ship coming to America, what would they have? Not much. So they would try to create a celebration among themselves.”

Helping to contribute to that Celtic celebration are a host of musicians and dancers who specialize in traditional Irish arts, including fiddler Laura Risk of Montreal, who trained under master fiddler Alasdair Fraser, and Irish dancer Kieran Jordan, who specializes in the sean nos style that’s less rigid than other forms of Irish dance.

The Irish Revels focuses on a group of people celebrating Christmas, and it has its roots in Burford’s own family history, but it’s a story that most anyone could find meaning in. As Burford said, “the immigrant story is such a universal American story.” There’s also the element of a group of people drawing on limited resources to make their holiday joyous. “Even in times when things are difficult, as they are now for many people, and as they were for these immigrants, (bringing) little with them to a new land that they did not know, they still managed to celebrate what they could share, which was their music and their dance and their stories,” Binder said. “That’s the same now, in our holidays, when we may not have as much to spend. There is still much to be shared and given.”

“The Christmas Revels: An Irish Celebration of the Winter Solstice” will be performed at 7 tonight through Saturday night, at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday in Spaulding Auditorium at the Hopkins Center for the Arts ($23-$38, adults; $11-$20, children 18 and younger).

Best Bets

For close to half a century, the union of Renee Taylor, known for playing Fran Fine’s mother on The Nanny, and Joseph Bologna (My Favorite Year, Big Daddy) has been proof that not all show business marriages are doomed. Bologna and Taylor, who have been summer residents of Barnard for 30 years, received an Oscar nomination for writing the 1970 comedy Lovers and Other Strangers, based on their own courtship and interactions between their families. Their marriage also serves as the inspiration for their play If You Ever Leave Me ... I’m Coming With You, which the pair will perform at 3 p.m. Sunday at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Preservation Trust of Vermont to reopen the Barnard General Store ($38 advance; $40 day of show).

∎ Two of the Upper Valley’s favorite bands, the funk-flavored Green Room and bluegrass group Reckless Breakfast, take over the Main Street Museum in White River Junction for a joint show tomorrow night, starting at 8 and continuing through midnight. The museum also has music on Saturday from the Final Frontier, who play at 8:30, following a reception for the new “Survival Soup” art exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m.

∎ Central Vermont roots rocker Bow Thayer takes the stage at Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction tomorrow at 8 p.m., joined by Jeff Berlin and others. Thayer and his band Perfect Trainwreck will release their new album Eden next month ($15).

Choral Music

The BarnArts Chorale and the BarnArts Orchestra will perform their second annual Winter Carols concert at 7 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday at the First Universalist Church of Barnard.

Based at Barnard’s BarnArts Center for the Arts, the group will be joined by Jack Snyder, Jennifer Hansen, Jim Yeager and others to perform carols by Jim Rutter that are based on choral songs of the early 20th century ($10 adult; $5 students).

Folk

Longtime folk performers Pete Sutherland and Rose Diamond give a free show of folk music at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Artistree Community Arts Center and Gallery in Woodstock.

∎ Rock cellist Kristen Miller joins guitarist Ken Bonfield to perform at the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the basement of the Sunapee Methodist Church. The duo will perform both contemporary and traditional holiday music, and a hat will be passed for the performers.

On Stage

Peter Pan, the stage musical based on J.M. Barrie’s beloved tale of a boy who refuses to grow up, continues its holiday run at Northern Stage in White River Junction this week, with performances at 7:30 tonight through Saturday, and again on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Matinee shows of Peter Pan take place at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Visit www.northernstage.org to purchase tickets.

∎ A.R. Gurney’s play Sylvia, about a dog who drives a wedge between an empty nest couple, concludes its run at Enfield’s Shaker Bridge Theatre this weekend, with performances at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and at 2:30 Sunday afternoon ($25, adults; $20, students).

∎ She Eclipse Grange Shorts, first performed at the Thetford theater in September, will return in a holiday-themed show to the Eclipse Grange at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. It’s based on public radio’s Selected Shorts program. Upper Valley actors Rebecca Bailey, Laine Gillespie, Kurt Feuer, Will Giblin and Kevin Fitzpatrick will perform staged readings of works by Chekhov, Robert Penn Warren, Grace Paley, Willem Lange and others ($12, adults; $10, students).

School Performances

∎ Lebanon High School’s Wet Paint Players will perform 9 to 5: The Musical, the workplace musical with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, at 7 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Lebanon Opera House ($10, adults; $5, students; free for Lebanon High School students and SAU 88 employees).

Comedy

Boston-area comedian Jim Colliton has appeared at the Tropicana hotels in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and on Comedy Central, and his next stop is Tupelo Music Hall in White River Junction at 7 p.m. Saturday. Colliton shares the stage with Mike Thomas and Kevin Byer, the 2012 winner of the “Funniest Comic in Vermont” contest, who will appear in the upcoming film Big Finish with Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters, among others ($17).

Dance Music

DJ Traci hosts an evening of dance music and karaoke at 9 p.m. Saturday at Salt hill Pub in Newport.

Bar and Club Circuit

Jason Cann plays his weekly set at Harpoon Brewery in Windsor tonight at 6, and also plays a show at New Socials Bar and Grill in Claremont at 7 p.m. tomorrow.

∎ Rick Redington performs at Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock tonight at 9.

∎ Jim Yeager comes to Jesse’s Restaurant in Hanover for a show at 6 tomorrow.

∎ The Ron Noyes Band from Concord arrives at Salt hill Pub in Lebanon for a show at 9 p.m. tomorrow. On Saturday night, the pub has the funk-rock group Superfrog at 9 p.m., and on Tuesday, live traditional Irish music sessions begin at 6 p.m.

∎ Funk-rock trio About Gladys rocks Salt hill Pub in Newport tomorrow at 9 p.m.

∎ Guitarist Randy Miller and fiddler Roger Kahle lead a session of Irish traditional music at Salt hill Pub in Hanover at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

∎ The Party Crashers will bring their brand of danceable rock to Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland at 9 p.m. tomorrow.

∎ Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon has music tomorrow night from Don and Jenn Plus 2, starting at 9.

∎ The Common Man Restaurant in Claremont hosts Chris Cleeman for a show at 5 p.m. Sunday.

∎ These musicians perform at Canoe Club in Hanover: tonight, David Greenfield; tomorrow, folk musician Cormac McCarthy; Saturday, the guitar and vocal duo of Singer and Jordan; Sunday, bassist David Westphalen and pianist Alki Steriopoulis; Tuesday, the a capella group North Country Chordsmen; and Wednesday, folk pianist Jonathan Kaplan.

Open Mics, Jams

Jim Abbott leads a Friday night jam starting at 6:30 at the Building A Local Economy (BALE) office on the South Royalton green.

∎ Salt hill Pub in Hanover’s Monday open mic is hosted by Chad Gibbs, and begins at 7.

∎ Davey Davis hosts the open mic at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Shepard’s Pie Restaurant on Route 4 in Quechee.

∎ Join Gregory Brown for Skunk Hollow Tavern’s open mic at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

∎ Anthony Furnari of The Wheelers hosts an open mic at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon.

∎ The Colatina Exit in Bradford puts on an open mic on Tuesday from 8 to 11 p.m.

∎ The Dusty Bottle in Bradford has an open mic and karaoke on Wednesdays, starting at 8 p.m.

∎ Bear Hollow Vintage Guitars hosts an open jam every Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at the studio, located on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon.

∎ Bentley’s Restaurant in Woodstock hosts an open mic each Monday night at 9.

∎ Lil Red Baron in Newport has an open mic night on Wednesdays at 7:30.

Entertainment Highlights appears each Thursday. Send notices of upcoming events to kbryan@vnews.com.

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CORRECTION:

This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction ran in the Friday, Dec. 14 edition of the Valley News:

The Christmas Revels is a production of Revels North, presented by the Hopkins Center. A story in Thursday's paper incorrectly stated the organization behind the show.