Dylan Thomas was a brilliant unruly Welsh genius with such a keen eye for the homespun beauty of his little town of Glamorgan that his poetry still retains all its power to take your breath away.
Last week the Irish Repertory Theatre’s annual Christmas show, based around Thomas’s poems interspersed with traditional carols and songs, opened to a charmed audience proving once again the Rep’s still the best place in town to unlock the true meaning of Christmas.
Gifted with an all-seeing eye that could unlock the heady secrets of creation from a starting point as simple as a snowflake, A Child’s Christmas In Wales is still one of the most evocative meditations on the season ever written.
In the Rep’s show traditional and modern Christmas standards compete to cast a seasonal spell over even the most resisting natures from songs that are high on melody and five part harmony, and low on sentiment.
Take yourself along to blow away the winter blahs, and be assured it will be worth every penny.
Director Charlotte Moore has skillfully adapted and directed the show with assistance from musical director John Bell. Staged this year in the smaller W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre at the Rep, the stage actually makes the cozy fireside feel of the show really come to life.
Writing about one far off, magical Christmas of his childhood and then all of his remembered Christmases, there’s an irresistible nostalgic glow to this production that’s as cheering as a shot of holiday sherry.
The talented ensemble are all note perfect from start to finish, and the 70 minutes of sheer entertainment is pure joy.
Beginning with the simple but affecting carol “Take My Hand Tomorrow’s Christmas” sung appropriately enough in Welsh (the English translation is sung as the second verse), it’s a tuneful curtain up that sets the scene for all that’s to come.
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After that evocative opening tune Ashley Robinson, the skilled young actor playing Dylan Thomas, tells the audience, “I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was 12 or whether it snowed for 12 days and 12 nights when I was six.” Right away we know it doesn’t matter, because Robinson manages to convey Thomas’s cheeky hovering above it all demeanor, which allows him to celebrate Christmas and gently mock it at the same time.
Aunts and uncles, overweight cousins and characters remembered from his childhood populate and enliven this tale from start to finish.
Before he was Wales’s poet laureate he was once just Dylan Thomas the high-spirited schoolboy, and this show finds the time to remind us of the fact vividly.
But the show’s secret weapon is the first rate musical arrangements created by Bell. They’re quite simply magical from start to finish, and he knows how to conjure scenes and emotions with the smallest note.
As he did last year, Robinson once again threatens to steal the entire show with his remarkable understanding of the source material and his sheer sense of mischievous fun.
A particular highlight is his rendition of “I Don’t Want a Lot for Christmas.” In other hands it could quickly become a glib grocery list, but in Robinson’s it’s genuinely comic. Its humor nicely compliments Dylan’s own.
For this reviewer it was the old Victorian song “A Soalin” that turns an entertaining show into a terrific one. The harmonies, the lyrics and the bittersweet haunting melody will stay with you long after you leave the theater, setting the stage for this winter holiday like no other show in town.
“Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake,” that old holiday chestnut, is back this year too, and I have to admit that audiences eat it up.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales concludes with a medley of unforgettable holiday classics that you’ll be hard put not to join in with (and in fact you’ll be invited).
There’s no room for grinches in this show, and they’ll break out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to defuse you if you even try.
Possibly the greatest Christmas song ever written, it’s also one of the most quietly affecting. Take yourself along to see this show and you’ll be powerless to resist.
A Child’s Christmas In Wales is running until December 31 at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, New York. For tickets call 212-727-2737 or visit www.irishrep.org.