By HOLLY JOHNSON //
"Celtic Crossing" in top form
The Portland Revels swept us off to an intriguing setting this season during their annual winter holiday performance, “Celtic Crossing.” Instead of Ireland or America, the large cast of the company’s 21st season found itself on one of the ships sailing on the Atlantic bound for New York’s Ellis Island from the Emerald Isle. Somewhere in the middle of the ocean the show unfolded.
There were so many of these ships during the mid 19th-century that those viewing the St Lawrence River in Canada stated that you could see ships parked as far as the eye could see. Some were thought to be Phantom Ships, those that sailed without a crew. The potato famine drove nearly a million people out of Ireland landed on North American shores, poor and mistreated by the Puritan settlers and other bluebloods who despaired that too many of them had come.
“Celtic Crossing” painted a less-grim picture of life on one of the ships. Step-dancing, lovely Irish holiday songs, hymns and some familiar tunes regularly performed by the Revels to welcome the winter solstice were all performed here by a lively, tuneful group of men, women and children, the highlight being the slapstick mummers play, featuring Beelzebub, Jack Straw, St. Patrick and Cromwell in this version about death and rebirth. But other draws were the lovely songs including “Be Though My Vision,” one of the best-known hymns from Ireland, the upbeat “Fiddlers Green,” “The Green Fields of America,” and “Down by the Salley Gardens,” with lyrics by W.B. Yeats.
The regular Revels favorites included Sussex Mummers’ Carol, “Lord of the Dance” and the sing-along round “Dona Nobis Pacem.” The Portland Brass Quintet and the Christmas Revels Band were in top form, and became part of the shipboard population.
The cast was in top form, including featured Irish step dancer Maldon Meehan, Jeb Berrier who played the Welsh first mate, Kevin Carr as the Poet and Jess Gibson as Fiona. Stage director Bruce A. Hostetler did a fine job of blocking this large cast on the deck of the ship, and music director Robert Lockwood, who also performed onstage, kept the songs coming, including a gaggle of children’s songs to celebrate the season.
The quality of Christmas Revels seems to improve each year. Alas, we didn’t get the review in for the few days they performed this season.
The last show was Dec. 22.