Holiday Favorite Finds New Home in Lebanon
By Tom Long and Stacy Milbouer
Fiddlehead Contributing Editors
Like Brigadoon, the mythical Scottish village where time stood still, “The Christmas Revels” reappears every year for a celebration of the solstice through traditional English song, dance and drama.
If previous years are any indication, the production will have audiences on their feet, dancing in the aisles and raising their voices in song at the Lebanon Opera House from Dec. 21-23.
“I think a lot of people come away from ‘The Christmas Revels’ feeling like they have formed a community, even if it’s only for an afternoon or evening,” Brian Cook, executive director of Revels North, said recently.
The annual production is a theatrical mix of audience singalongs and games, a mummers’ play, folk dance and music and an original theater production set in a textile mill all drawn from 19th-century English folk traditions.
“Some of the songs are so catchy and easy to follow you can quickly find yourself singing along. During the ‘Lords of the Dance’ number you might find yourself dancing in the aisle with somebody you don’t know,” said Cook.
The show is presented by a cast of about 50.
“It’s a mixture of pros and amateurs ranging in age from 8 to 70. Some are performing and other are doing makeup and other backstage work. There are some who have been doing it for years and others have never performed before,” he said.
For some, it is a family affair, with grandparents performing with their children and grandchildren. Cook and his children have also appeared in the show.
This year there will be several guest artists, among them English guitarist Adam Broome, who was raised in the Cotswolds; accordionist-pianist-vocalist Alex Cumming; percussionist Jane Boxall; and fiddler Jaige Trudel.
“The Christmas Revels” has been held for 45 years, but this will be its first time at the Lebanon Opera House. Revels North previously celebrated the solstice at Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover.
“I think it’s a good move,” said Cook. “It’s a great old theater, and Lebanon is becoming a regional arts hub where people from all over New Hampshire come for arts and culture.”
Cook said the production gives the troupe the opportunity to reinvent itself yet remain true to its roots.
“The story is set in an English mill during the Industrial Revolution. The English setting should reassure anyone unsettled by the move,” he said.
He said audience members often come back year after year and come from as far away as Concord and Portsmouth.
“Some plan their holidays around it,” he said.
“The Christmas Revels” was founded by John Langstaff in 1957 in New York City. He revived the production in 1971 at Sanders Theater in Cambridge through the encouragement of his daughter Carol, who later founded Revels North in New Hampshire. Revels is now presented in New York City and Washington, D.C, and seven other locations.
“We’re the only production that is not in a major city,” said Cook. “I think the fact that we’ve been around for 45 years says a lot.”
Tickets for the event run from $8-$47 and can be purchased in-person at the Lebanon Opera House, 51 North Park St., Monday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m., by calling the box office at 448-0400 or online at lebanonoperahouse.org.