Our first “clue” that Los Angeles-based Kerry Records’ production of An Irish Christmas, presented on Dec. 16th in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, was a Christmas show was the Christmas tree decorated with white lights, tucked over into the front corner of the stage to our right. This feeling was reinforced by the first song: “Carol of the Bells.”
The immediate taste of Ireland came from the costuming, the instrumentation, and the presence of a low stone wall at the back of the stage. The singers and dancers were all dressed in what is thought of as traditional Irish peasant garb. And the initial instruments played by the band were: uilleann pipes, bodhran, fiddle, button accordion, and bouzouki.
For the uninitiated, uilleann pipes are an Irish “cousin” of the more widely known Scottish highland pipes. A bodhran is an Irish drum that is held in the lap, with one hand behind the single head controlling the tension (and therefore the pitch) and one hand holding a double-headed beater. A bouzouki is an eight-stringed instrument the size of a guitar with tuning similar to that of a mandolin; although its origin is Greek, it is quite popular among Irish musicians. The versatile musicians of An Irish Christmasalso played guitar, penny whistle (another Irish favorite), harpsichord, banjo, snare drum, and flutes.
The music was a mixture of familiar Christmas carols, traditional Irish reels and jigs, and Irish Christmas carols. A few of the songs showcased individual members of the band playing solo. The musicians were all quite accomplished, and the music was lovely.
Frequently, the music was accompanied by dance — the true crowd-pleaser of the evening. In short, the dancing was terrific! The dancers tapped and leapt, arms stiff at their sides, and kicked and bounced in typical Irish step-dancing routines. The male leads were the standouts; the audience clearly enjoyed the “dance-offs” among them and between them and the other dancers. There was also a “duel” between the bodhran player and two of the male dancers.
The principal vocalists were a trio of female singers. Members of the band and some of the dancers joined them on some of the songs. Often their singing was accompanied by dancing. And one of their final numbers was “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in which they performed an amusing “let’s pretend we each want to upstage the others” contest.
Traditional carols included: “Silent Night,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” the above-mentioned “Twelve Days of Christmas” and “Carol of the Bells.” Perhaps, not as well-known Irish carols included “Wexford Carol,” “The Wren Song” (which was accompanied by a dance/skit), and “The Boar’s Head Carol.” The company also sang some traditional Irish songs that are not associated with Christmas, with these songs generally accompanying dance routines.
The Department of Picky-Picky, however, insists that we mention that the evening was not without some mild disappointments:
Most audiences are accustomed to the flashier costumes worn by Irish dance competitors, and these more authentic outfits might have seemed a bit drab to some. One audience member remarked on the way out: “Don’t Irish dancers usually wear shorter skirts?” (And Pam asked Kurt if he was also wondering about that.)
Also: aside from the Christmas tree (which was turned off during the show), there was precious little stage-dressing to suggest Christmas (or Ireland, for that matter). The show did make use of projections on the backdrop, now and then showing a Celtic image or suggestions of smoke. We would like to have seen more extensive use of this technology — perhaps, more images reinforcing the Christmas-ness or the Irish-ness of the occasion.
The weakest part of the show, however, was found in the skits in which the singers and dancers were acting out aspects of certain Irish traditions. They seemed uncomfortable in this role, as though they were having to force themselves to perform when they were required to mime milking a cow, for instance.
In the end, we did learn a little about Irish culture from the program, which gave a nice history of various dances. We were glad that we had a chance to read it before the show started, as we likely would have been lost without having the back story for each dance. It does seem that many Irish dances stem from their trying to make their chores, such as milking cows, churning butter, and shoemaking, just a little bit more fun.
Despite the small shortcomings, An Irish Christmass was quite enjoyable.
AN IRISH CHRISTMAS (Broadway Series South, Dec. 16 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium).
SHOW: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/an-irish-christmas-5719 and https://www.facebook.com/events/559457407551855/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGQp0-db-V0.
PRESENTER: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south, https://www.facebook.com/broadwayseriessouthraleigh, and https://twitter.com/BroadwaySouth.
An Irish Christmas (a multicity national tour since 2002): http://anirishchristmastour.com/ (official website).
Kerry Records (Los Angeles-based producer): http://kerryrecords.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/ConnectWithIreland (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/kerryrecords (Twitter page).
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.