The Irish (and if I’m honest, thanks to Dylan Thomas, the Welsh) celebrate Christmas with particular skill. It’s probably the combination of wistfulness, regret and the hope that swirls around at this (most wonderful) time of year. It’s catnip for Celts.
Over at the Irish Repertory Theatre they have been celebrating Christmas with memorable shows filled with good cheer, a little seasonal snark and some completely unforgettable tunes. But this year, in an interesting departure from their tried and tested formula, director Charlotte Moore will present perennial favorite It’s a Wonderful Life.
Set in a radio station in the 1940s, with six actors playing 25 characters, Frank Capra's poignant Christmas drama will come to life on the Rep’s second stage.
You remember how it goes -- it’s Christmas Eve 1946 and George Bailey, the nicest guy in town, is in a terrible predicament. He’s contemplating jumping off the Bedford Fall Bridge.
But right on cue Clarence, his Guardian Angel, appears eager to earn his wings by helping a good man find a happy ending. Clarence takes George in hand and shows him what the small town of Bedford Falls would have been had he never been born.
In the process he saves him (and us). If you’re looking for a show that will cheer you like a shot of sherry this is it.
Meanwhile, upstairs at the Rep the theater unveils its big Christmas offering in the Off-Broadway premiere of The Songs I Love So Well, featuring legendary Irish singer songwriter Phil Coulter. The show is planned a s a celebration of Derry man Coulter's remarkably successful career.
Along the way Coulter will present some of his best loved and most personal compositions and folk songs, including “My Boy,” “Home From the Sea,” “The Man From God Knows Where,” “Keep a Candle in the Window,” and the all-time classic “The Town I Loved So Well,” about his childhood in Derry.
Coulter’s decision to play the Rep is a major coup for the venue and an indication of the esteem it’s held in. After all, Coulter has sold out such venues as Carnegie Hall, the 4,000-seat Chicago Theatre in Chicago and Symphony Hall in Boston. He chose the Rep because he admires the work it produces and the people who run it.
Across town at the Irish Arts Center on West 51st Street, the center’s highly acclaimed annual musical celebration An Irish Christmas will take place from December 7 to 22.
The show is hosted by traditional Irish music legend Mick Moloney. Tunes performed range from the traditional to the contemporary, including such titles as “The Holly,” “She Bears a Berry,” “Christmas in the Trenches” and “The Bushes of Jerusalem,” as well as sing-along favorites such as “The Wren Song” and “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” (which is really much closer to Broadway than the River Shannon, but you won’t care when the craic gets going).
Fiddler Athena Tergis (Riverdance) will participate, and for my money that’s reason enough to book your tickets now. Her skill is simply breathtaking. Without doubt she ranks as the greatest Irish fiddle player I have ever had the pleasure to listen to, and I’m certain you’ll agree when you attend.
Tergis joins an impressive line-up of Irish musicians, including Moloney on banjo, mandolin and vocals, button accordionist Billy McComiskey, singer and fiddler player Liz Hanley, Irish dancer Niall O’Leary and numerous special guests, including singers Tamar Korn and Grace Nono, with storytelling by director and screenwriter Macdara Vallely.
Every year at the Irish Arts Center a tradition now includes a performance, interview or story from a different unannounced special guest that takes to the stage as the show plays. Special guests in the past few years have included Gabriel Byrne, Christine Quinn, Colum McCann, Ellen McCourt, Isaiah Sheffer, Susan McKeown, Michael Patrick McDonald, and Bill Whelan. These are banner names and a tribute to the center’s enduring importance as a top Irish arts venue in the city.
The allure of Christmas is hard to define, but it stands for family, for hope, for remembrance of things past and for dreams of the future. It speaks deeply to the Irish spirit, and in these three shows you’ll see Ireland at its absolute best.