A most welcome Celtic Christmas

Talbot performed “I Wonder As I Wander, Angels We have Heard on High, O Holy Night” from among the Christmas classics, and added “Start Is All Over Again” and “Everything” from her contemporary canon. She shared vocal duties with Robbie O’Connell and Brian, Lindsay and Fionnuala O’Donovan.

O’Connell provided a familiar and at times comical presence in the show, displaying the powerful clear voice that has made him a popular performer in his own right. His modern day carol “Three Kings” was one of those treasured moments listening to a singer who wrote his own song.

O’Donovan and O’Connell are Irish émigrés to the Boston area and share a close 30-year bond so they easily conversed as they informed the audience of the history behind two Christmas show staples, “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” attributed to the McNulty family, and “Christmas in the Trenches” written by John McCutheon.

Fionn O’Donovan gave us a stirring solo in “In the Bleak Midwinter” and duet with Talbot for “Away in a Manger.”

The special guest dancer this year was the double-threat Caitlin Nic Gabhann (she also plays the concertina), a captivating stepdancer with loads of stage presence and confidence gained from Riverdance tours and years of performing that belie her age.

With Jordan sidelined, it fell to Meath native Nic Gabhann to fill the sizeable shoes in a production where dance choreography is an integral part of its success over the years thanks to Jordan’s vision and awareness of other dancers’ appeal like a Nick Yensen, Aidan Vaughan, Kevin Doyle and Nick Gareiss, who starred with her in years’ past.

In the second half her choreographed routine to the Latino-infused tune “Tico Tico” to the brilliant music led by Seamus Egan was a show-stopping performance full of sass and attitude and clever costuming completed by the dashing hat.

Equally impressive was her concertina accompaniment to a wonderful set dance by young Patrick Mellow, one of the charming young dancers from the Harney School of Dance who compliment the show throughout and help make this great family entertainment.

Seamus Egan and O’Donovan assembled an amazing group of musicians for this edition of “Celtic Christmas Sojourn” which at times rivaled one of the fine string ensembles you would see anywhere.

It was led by multi-instrumentalist Egan, who played the low whistle, flute, banjo, guitar and mandolin, Beoga’s Sean Og Graham (Antrim) who doubled on guitar and button accordion and his bandmate, Eamonn Murray (Antrim) on bodhran and snare drum who returned for a second year, and long-time Egan associate bass guitarist Chico Huff.

The front line of strings were manned by the incredible Scots duet of fiddler Chris Stout (Fair Isle) and harpist Catriona McKay (Dundee), Hanneke Cassel (Oregon), Amanda Cavanagh (Boston) and Natalie Haas (California) on cello.

Cassel and Haas are well-known younger musicians who recently toured with Childsplay and are leading members of the Boston music scene known for its creative crossover chops.

Cavanagh is the latest young talent to come out of the Boston Irish music community, currently studying at University of Limerick and Tufts as a music major.

Stout and McKay are a cutting edge tandem in the Celtic music circuit around the world who wowed the crowd with their wildly dynamic composition “Isflak” or “Ice Flow,” inspired by the northern channels surrounding the Shetland Islands as their party piece in the show.

While nowhere near as lethal as “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake,” the ingredients to making the “Christmas Celtic Sojourn” a success every year are very important, and each year it seems like it gets easier and smoother as the team matures in its vision and combined expertise.

Behind the scenes the hard work is very evident and results in a seamless production on stage as far as the audience is concerned. In fact, like Robbie O’Connell’s apt description of eating a slice of Christmas cake at Easter time and still getting “high as a kite,” the allure and magic of “Christmas Celtic Sojourn” can be enjoyed throughout the year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all and see you in 2011!

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