There’s a special poignancy to Christmas that’s unlike any other time of the year, because even more than New Year’s Eve or Halloween, Christmas awakens ghosts. Long lost boyfriends, the girl that got away, the friend you miss, the mom or dad that passed on and many more besides.
And nothing seems to evoke the spirit of Christmas quite like a poem or a song. Think of George Michael’s “Last Christmas” or John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over),” say – they’re not great songs in themselves, but through association, through the flood of memories that come with them, they become more than themselves.
That’s because in your mind Christmas isn’t just a day or a celebration -- it’s every remembered Christmas too, including all the missing faces who were at your table once along with the bright new faces who gather there now, all rolled into one.
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So Christmas happens on your street and in your city but it also happens in your heart, and if you have a big heart (and what New Yorker, give or take a Donald Trump, doesn’t?) then the best thing you could do to gladden it this holiday season is take yourself along to see 'A Child’s Christmas In Wales,' the Irish Repertory Theatre’s utterly magical evocation of the spirit of the season.
Beginning December 7 and running through December 31, the Irish Rep employs the irresistible rhythms of the Welsh poet laureate Dylan Thomas, whose capacity for (and ability to) create delight are undiminished.
“All the Christmases roll down the hill toward the Welsh speaking sea, like a snowball whiter and bigger and rounder, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street,” Thomas writes, unforgettably, in a sequence quoted in the show.
Thomas was a man who unreservedly loved his little town along with the lively characters who made their homes there, and an Irish audience will have no trouble recognizing their own homeland and parish in the sights and sounds of Thomas’s Welsh childhood.
Irish Rep director Charlotte Moore, a woman who clearly has more spirit than the Jameson distillery, successfully makes this annual Christmas tradition at the Rep take flight because she understands that Christmas is a time of year that’s made special during childhood and somehow, no matter what happens in life, it manages to stay special, even if we’ve grow older and more cynical in the intervening years.
Appealing to the kid in all of us with song and dance numbers that lift the heart and the spirits, Moore invites the gifted pianist John Bell to hit the notes that resonate.
Playing both traditional and contemporary Christmas music, Bell manages to elevate the show’s familiar and nostalgic material and in fact the whole experience in ways you can’t anticipate before the curtain goes up.
With costumes by David Toser and a lighting design by Michael O’Connor, 'A Child’s Christmas in Wales' evokes winter and snow and decorations and shadows, all the successful elements of a truly happy Christmas.
But it’s true to say that not every New Yorker enjoys Christmas or the sentimental songs that usually accompany it.
So if you’re one of those people who winces when you hear carols blaring away at your local supermarket take heart, this is a sophisticated show that gets you, and you don’t have to shudder in anticipation of a deluge of cheap sentiment.
Instead of the syrupy carols you’ll hear over the Christmas loudspeakers, Moore has wisely selected a host of numbers from the Great American Songbook that have the power to stop you in your tracks.
If there’s a more poignant or perfect pop song than 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas' it has yet to be discovered. It achieves its remarkable power by resisting sentimentality, not giving into it.
We know what it’s costing the singer to keep smiling, and in a way that knowledge is the secret buried in the heart of Christmas, too. It’s courage and compassion, not egg nog, that truly makes the season bright.
Year after year the Irish Rep has remembered that lesson and created a show whose charms will light you up on the way home like a shot of fine sherry.
'A Child’s Christmas in Wales' will play at the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York. Visit www.irishrep.org, or call 212-727-2739.