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Highlights: Longtime Performer Returns as Revels Does the Renaissance

  • John Severinghaus, of Norwich, watches a monitor backstage at the Hopkins Center in Hanover, N.H., during a dress technical rehearsal of Revels North's "A Venetian Celebration of the Winter Solstice," Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. The show opens Thursday, Dec. 13, and runs through Sunday Dec. 16. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • John Severinghaus, of Norwich, is performing as The Doge, the lead in "A Venetian Celebration of the Winter Solstice," his 20th Revels North show in the last 22 years. Severinghaus, a psychiatrist on the Geisel School of Medicine faculty, rehearses a scene in the show at the Hopkins Center in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • John Severinghaus, a psychiatrist from Norwich, rehearses his part as The Doge, in Revels North's annual holiday show at the Hopkins Center in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/13/2018 12:05:04 AM
Modified: 12/13/2018 12:05:14 AM

Behind the beard and the mustache he grew for this year’s Christmas Revels, John Severinghaus will sound familiar to longtime followers of the annual celebration of the winter solstice at the Hopkins Center this weekend.

Back onstage after sitting out the 2016 and 2017 Revels, the baritone from Norwich also will be speaking more lines than he sings in the yearly holiday pageant, which opens tonight and runs through Sunday. The setting of this year’s Revels, Renaissance Venice, captivated Severinghaus.

“I took a break the last couple of years, partly because they were doing French-Canadian and Scandinavian themes, which I’d done before, plus Revels takes up a lot of time in the fall,” Severinghaus said last week during a conversation at the Top of the Hop, on his way to a rehearsal. “So when I heard this one was going to have Renaissance music, which is the most satisfying for me, it seemed like the right time to do it again.

“Then I learned that it’s much more of a speaking part.”

“It” is the role of the doge, or city administrator, of Renaissance Venice, who’s struggling to embrace the holiday spirit while dealing with many, often competing demands from his superiors, his underlings and his fellow citizens.

“In the first act, the chorus presses in on him and he just stops everybody and says, ‘Basta! Enough!’, and the whole cast freezes,” Revels musical director Nils Fredland said last Friday. “John was on our short list for the role because he has this really, kind of centered, very grounded and peaceful presence, which we needed for this character. It’s that grounded-ness that he conveys to the cast and to the audience, to not feel overwhelmed by the holidays themselves.”

Severinghaus, who first performed at Christmas Revels in 1996, credits former Revels North musical director David Gay for teaching him, along with generations of Revelers, how to relax onstage.

“I got really acquainted with a whole different attitude toward theater,” Severinghaus said. “He was constantly working with us to keep us focused but enjoying the process. I used to be a perfectionist as a singer and as an actor, and got myself all worked up.

“He taught us how to have fun and go with it.”

Severinghaus had enough fun that first year to stick with Revels for most of the next two decades. He’d joined to accompany his then-8-year-old daughter, and after her passion detoured to gymnastics in 1997, “I went back, and after one or two more of them, I decided, ‘I guess I’m in this for me now.’ ”

Severinghaus had set aside his love for the stage, as well as for choral singing, during his medical training at Columbia University, and during ensuing internships in psychiatry. Then, not long after moving from New York City to the Upper Valley in 1980, to serve as medical director of the Valley Vista addiction inpatient program in Bradford, he found artistic outlets.

First, he joined the Bel Canto Chamber Singers, then directed by Louis Burkot. Over the years, he balanced his professional responsibilities with the singing and with Revels.

Now semi-retired at 73, he still teaches students at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine how to conduct interviews with patients and works part time with opioid addicts at a clinic in White River Junction. He has plenty of time to sing Renaissance music with the a cappella chorus Wrensong.

Last spring, Severinghaus scratched his theater itch by playing Benjamin Franklin at the Briggs Opera House, in the We the People Project’s production of 1776, a musical re-imagining of the crafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence. While it included singing, it also helped him tune up acting chops he hadn’t flexed since playing summer stock in Sunapee between his sophomore and junior years in college.

“That was just so much fun, to go back into actual theater,” Severinghaus said. “I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoyed it when I was younger.”

1776 also provided a transition for playing the doge in Revels.

“I get to portray a guy who’s got a sense of honor, about the nature of leadership, and is about to take a break from it, but also wants to do the right thing by the people.”

Revels North kicks off the Christmas Revels in Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium tonight at 6. Admission is $7.50 to $46 on opening night, and $10.20 to $48 for the subsequent five performances. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit or call 603-646-2422.

Best Bets

Decisions, decisions: Devotees of piano jazz face two admission-free choices on Friday night, starting at 7 at Pleasant Street Books in Woodstock, where store owner Sonny Saul and guitarist John Stowell play works by Saul and other composers.

And at 8 at The Skinny Pancake in Hanover, the Chris von Staats Band revisits the tunes that Vince Guaraldi wrote and recorded for CBS TV’s beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas.

■This weekend also brings a couple of different takes on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

On Friday night at 7, the Randolph-based Faith and Family Films hosts a free screening of Mr. Scrooge to See You at the Baptist Fellowship of Randolph. The 2013 feature, following up on the novelist’s holiday paradigm-setting story, opens with the ghost of Jacob Marley revisiting Ebenezer Scrooge on the next Christmas Eve to send the redeemed miser time-traveling to the 21st century. There, Scrooge delivers a yuletide dope-slap, reminiscent of his encounters with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come in the original, to cutthroat businessman Timothy Cratchit VI. Refreshments will be available for purchase. To learn more about Faith and Family Films, which screens Christian-oriented movies in the Randolph area, call 802-565-8013.

And in a more traditional rendition, veteran Valley News columnist and former Etna resident Willem Lange recites his streamlined version of the tale on Saturday night at 7, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hanover. Admission is by donation to the Upper Valley Haven’s programs for the homeless.

■The venerable Americana band Donna the Buffalo brings the tour of its new Dance in the Street album to the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph on Saturday night at 7:30. To reserve tickets ($28 to $38) and learn more, visit or call 802-728-6464.

■If you’re looking for a change of musical pace with your Saturday night beer, Concord-based rapper Ethyric performs with guitarist B. Snair at Hanover’s Salt hill Pub. Roses from Ruins opens at 9.

Looking Ahead

Norwich-native singer-songwriter Celia Woodsmith will lead her Americana quintet Say Darling into The Skinny Pancake in Hanover on Dec. 22 at 9 p.m. Admission to the band’s Holiday Jamboree is $12.

Theater/Performance Art

Northern Stage presents Matilda the Musical through Jan. 1, including a recently-added performance Sunday night at 7:30 at the Barrette Center for the Arts in White River Junction. To reserve tickets and learn more, visit or call 802-296-7000.

■Shaker Bridge Theatre stages the family comedy Over the Tavern through Dec. 23, with performances scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and on Sunday afternoons at 2:30. For tickets ($16 to $28 plus $2 for online purchases) and more information, visit or call 603-448-3750.


Mascoma Valley folk musicians Martin Decato and Scott Sanborn play Americana tunes during the monthly Corinth Coffeehouse on Saturday night at 7, at the town hall on Cookeville Road. Admission is by donation to the town’s Blake Memorial Library.

Holiday Hollers

The Mascoma Valley Guitar Orchestra performs free holiday concerts at Canaan Methodist Church on Friday night at 6:30 and 7:30. To join the ensemble, which rehearses on Sunday nights at 6:30 in the meeting room at the Enfield Public Works building, call 603-252-7180 or

■The Hartland Community Chorus sings two concerts at Damon Hall during Hartland Community Arts’ annual holiday show, on Saturday night at 7 and on Sunday afternoon at 2. The ensemble tackles seasonal music ranging from traditional carols through the premiere of composer David Anderegg and lyricist Robert Foote’s Winter Song. The festivities also include RJ Crowley directing his theatrical sketch, Special Delivery. While admission is free, Hartland Community Arts encourages donations of non-perishable food for the town food shelf.

■The Upper Valley Music Center is looking for singers to perform in its annual recital of Handel’s Messiah at the First Congregational Church of Lebanon on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. The fee to join the chorus is $15. To register and learn more, visit or call 603-448-1642. The suggested admission for listeners is $10.

■Christine Porter sings a mix of Christmas carols and original songs on yuletide and solstice themes on Sunday afternoon at 4, at St. Francis Roman Catholic Church in Windsor. Gerry Grimo will accompany her on piano, and guest singers include Paul Belaski, Daniel Naranjo and Laura Compton. Admission is by donation to the church.

■The adult and children’s choirs at Hanover’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church join forces in singing traditional British Christmas Carols on Sunday night, during the church’s Festival of Nine Lessons. The festivities begin at 6. Admission is free.

■Singer-guitarist Harvey Reid and fiddler Joyce Andersen perform their annual holiday concert at the Flying Goose Brewpub and Grille in New London at 8 on Wednesday night and next Thursday night. To reserve tickets ($25), visit or call 603-526-6899.


Vermont PBS broadcasts a digital restoration of Norwich director Nora Jacobson’s My Mother’s Early Lovers four times in December, starting tonight at 7. Subsequent broadcasts of the 1998 drama, the script for which Jacobson adapted from a memoir by Norwich writer Sybil Smith, are scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2, Monday night at 9 and Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. Streaming is also available.

Vermont PBS also has scheduled four late-December screenings, starting next Thursday night at 7, of Jacobson’s 2004 feature Nothing Like Dreaming, about a grieving teenager who finds an unlikely ally in an eccentric artist. To learn which channels the movies are on, and on what dates, visit

Bar and Club Circuit

Sensible Shoes pulls into Windsor Station tonight at 7. The Chris Kleeman Band sings and plays the blues on Friday night at 9:30, and Dan Blaise and Bernie Moss rock the house on Tuesday night at 6.

■Saxophonist Katie Runde, guitarist Ted Mortimer, bassist Casey Dennis and drummer Brett Hoffman play a set of funky jazz at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night at 9. They expect Frydaddy frontman Carlos Ocasio to join them during their second set.

■Emma Cook leads her Burlington-based trio Questionable Company into Salt hill Pub in downtown Lebanon on Friday night at 9, to play their mix of funk, rock, jazz, blues, soul, pop and folk. Acoustic rocker Chris Powers performs on Saturday night at 9

■Singer-songwriter Amanda McCarthy performs at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Friday night at 9.

■Flew-Z frontman Alec Currier plays Salt hill Pub in West Lebanon on Friday night at 9, and the folk-rock duo of Mark and Deb Bond performs on Saturday night at 8.

■Acoustic rocker Chris Powers plays Newport’s Salt hill Pub on Friday night at 9, and Tirade rocks the house on Saturday night at 9.

■Sonny Saul plays jazz at the On the River Inn in Woodstock on Saturday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 9.

■Matt “the Sax” Beaudin blows his own horn at SILO Distillery in Windsor on Sunday afternoon at 1.

■Saxophonist Michael Parker and guitarist Norm Wolfe play jazz at the Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm on Wednesday night at 6.

Open Mics

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night from 6:30 to 10.

■Al Carruth and EJ Tretter host the Sunapee Community Coffeehouse’s monthly open mic on Friday night at 7, in the basement of the Methodist church in Sunapee Harbor. Admission is by donation.

■Joe Stallsmith leads his weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass on Monday night at 6 at Salt hill Pub in Hanover.

■Fiddler Jakob Breitbach leads an acoustic jam session of bluegrass, Americana and old-timey music on Tuesday nights at 7 at The Filling Station Bar and Grill in White River Junction.

■Tom Masterson hosts an open mic at Colatina Exit in Bradford, Vt., on Tuesday nights at 8.

■Woodstock musician Jim Yeager hosts an open mic on Wednesday night at 8 at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners.

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304. Entertainment news also can be sent to

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