BWW Review: THE CHRISTMAS REVELS: A Long Tradition of Community Forged Through Music

12.19.2019

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From what I can tell, The Christmas Revels is one of those much-loved traditions that people look forward to revisiting year after year, like a performance of The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol, or taking the kids to see Santa Claus. However, unlike those other holiday seasonal shows, the Revels is billed as a celebration of the winter solstice, and it not only allows, but encourages (requires?) the audience to participate in a number of singalongs throughout the program. This year marks the 49th annual Revels, but it was my first experience, which caused me to wonder what took me so long. Each year features a different cultural theme and this year's journey takes us back to the 1930s, to Dust Bowl-era America.

The stage is set (designer Jeremy Barnett) to evoke a small-town radio station, with a makeshift broadcast booth framed by a proscenium arch lined with light bulbs, and a neon sign with the call letters WCRS atop an adjacent erector set-like tower. The Radio Man (Steve Barkhimer) is our guide for the trip back in time, introducing the musical acts, telling some stories, and connecting with Johnny Johnson (Jeff Song), an Everyman who seems to have lost his way, as well as his memory. As Johnny searches for a direction and a purpose, with the gentle counsel of Radio Man to nudge him along, the skits and songs open up the world to him and help him to find human connection, even love for a time (Chris Everett-Hussey). Valuable as the theme and lessons of the story are, what matters most in the Revels is the catalogue of music and eclectic musical styles that propel the program, performed by dozens of (mostly) volunteers and talented artists.

The show runs just under three hours, including an intermission, but the crowd (even the youngsters) never wilts. In fact, they are just as lively and engaged for the traditional audience participation finale, "The Sussex Mummers' Carol," as they have been throughout the program. The entire company joins together, accompanied by the Brass Ensemble, festive snow falls down on the stage, and the songs, dances, and stories of the 49th Christmas Revels conclude with the glorious sound of a communal chorus.

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