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A CurtainUp Review

A Child’s Christmas in Wales in Concert -- December 2011

A Chld's Christmas nWalses
Howard McGillan
(Photo: Carol Rosegg )
Holidays getting too frantic? Then follow the folks heading to the Irish Repertory Theatre to watch a concertized version of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore, who also directed Dancing at Lughansa currently enjoying an extended run at the Main Stage, it retains Thomas’s text but adds enough traditional and contemporary Christmas music to make the 1952 classic feel fresh again. And with renowned actor Howard McGillin leading the five-member cast, the show becomes as good as a striped and colored peppermint stick.

The ensemble’s enjoyment of what they are doing is not only engaging, but their genuine enthusiasm becomes infectious (There’s a sing-along at the end!) . To call any of the acting “great” would be to forget both the modest nature and true spirit of this show: It’s all about Christmas traditions, shared family memories, and our common humanity.

It's a treat to have Howard McGillin of Phantom of the Opera fame at such close rage. Without upstaging the other actors, he solidly shines as pater familias here. His star-voltage and incredibly sonorous voice add a special glow to the proceedings. But then nobody here lacks talent.

Edwin Cahill (LoveMusik on Broadway) brings an effortless ease to his part. The fair-haired Danielle Erin Rhodes (National tour of Oliver!) is endowed with delicate good looks and a crystal-clear voice. The attractive Beverly Ward (Epic Proportions on Broadway) infuses her scenes with a purity and genuine goodwill. And the handsome Ashley Robinson (last seen in The Last Goodbye at Williamstown Theater Festival) seamlessly segues from the boyish to more romantic parts during the evening.

Not to be overlooked is John Bell (musical direction) at an upright piano. Set back from the rest of the cast seated on chairs, Bell is almost invisible amid the Christmas trees, candles, and mistletoe on this cozy-looking set, evoking a Welch home. But his nimble command of the keys greatly enriches the holiday mood and atmosphere.

. My CurtainUp colleague Paulanne Simmons already detailed all the goings-on, and endearing musical diversions, of A Child’s Christmas in Wales in the Irish Rep's 2008 production. so suffice it to say, that its theatrical magic has joyously carried over to this year’s show. And, best of all, there’s nothing ersatz about Moore’s reinvention of Thomas’s iconic story.

All that remains to be said is that judging from the applause and the full house, the audience was completely charmed and pleased. It's a fine chance to reacquaint yourself with Thomas’s beloved work, and to enjoy Moore’s innovative craftmanship.

For more detals, the 2008 production review is reposted after the production notes.

A Childs’ Christmas in Wales in Concert
Written by Dylan Thomas
Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore
Cast: Edwin Cahill, Howard McGillin, Danielle Erin Rhodes, Ashley Robinson, Beverly Ward, John Bell.
Costumes: David Toser
Musical Director, piano: John Bell
Lighting: Michael O’Connor
Production Stage Manager: April Ann Kline
The Irish Repertory Theatre, at 132 West 22nd Street. Tickets: $30. Phone 212/727-2737
From 12/7/11; opening 12/11/11; closing 12/31/11.
December 7-18: Wednesday-Saturdays at 8pm; plus 3pm matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Christmas Week (December 19-25): no performance Monday, December 19; Tuesday, December 20 at 8pm; Wednesday, December 21 at 3pm and 8 pm; Thursday, December 22 at 8pm; Friday, December 23 at 3 pm and 8pm; no performances December 24 and 25.
New Year’s Week (December 26-31): no performances Monday, December 26; Tuesday, December 27 at 8pm; Wednesday, December 28 at 3pm and 8pm; Thursday, December 29 at 8pm; Friday, December 30 at 8pm; Saturday, December 31 at 3pm and 8pm.
For more information about the Irish Repertory Theatre, call 212/727-2737.
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on press performance of 12/08/11.
Original Review of A Child's Christmas in Wales in 2008

One Christmas was so like another, in those years, around the sea-town corner now, and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six. — Dylan Thomas
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 and died a mere 39 years later in New York City. The actual cause of death was a combination of bronchitis, pneumonia and infection. But rumors die hard, and to this day, many people believe the poet drank himself to death at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village. Thomas might have enjoyed the joke.

Thomas's poems are filled with music, passion and sometimes obtuse meaning. But his most popular works are often surprisingly simple — like his most beloved A Child's Christmas in Wales. For those who like to celebrate the traditional joys of Christmas — family, friends and food — the Irish Repertory Theatre's production offers a step into a time and place when Christmas meant snowball fights, aunts drinking a bit too much, a Yule-log crackling in the fireplace and the entire family singing carols.

Thomas's Wales is a place where even the sea speaks Welsh. And people remember whom the Teddy Bear was named after. These were the times when "there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills." Just hearing Thomas's words is sheer pleasure.

A Child's Christmas in Wales is directed by Charlotte Moore and features five singers and actors — Edwin Cahill, Kerry Conte, Jon Fletcher, Victoria Mallory, Ashley Robinson — who portray Thomas's characters and sing a repertoire of old favorites that include such songs as "Deck the Halls," "God Rest You Merry Gentlemen" and "Silent Night," as well as "Calon Lan" (sung in Welsh) and "Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake." All five performers have the proper amount of sincerity and innocence. They also have strong and beautiful voices — the women lyrical, the men robust.

The set, with its armchairs, Christmas trees, candles and mistletoe, is every bit as comfy as Thomas's Welsh home must have been at Christmas time. And with the piano onstage, one does have the feeling of a family sitting around the old piano and celebrating.

After an hour, well before little feet and hands become restless, the show ends with a sing-along that's just the speed for the little folks. As for the adults, most will surely be grateful for the hour's respite from the shopping frenzy, crowded streets and noisy bell-ringing and canned Christmas music that awaits them in the real world of a New York City Christmas.

A Child's Christmas in Wales
By Dylan Thomas
Directed by Charlotte Moore
Cast: Edwin Cahill, Kerry Conte, Jon Fletcher, Victoria Mallory, Ashley Robinson
Music Direction: Mark Hartman
Lighting Designer: Michael Gottlieb
Costume Designer: David Toser
Running Time: One hour, no intermission
The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., (212) 727-2737
From 12/3/08; opening 12/7/08; closing 1/4/09
Wednesday — Saturday at 8pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm
Tickets: $60, $55, special 16 and under price $20
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 13, 2008
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