A melody of memories whirled through my seat during The Christmas Revels, a collaboration of artistic ventures through A Medieval Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance and Drama. Directed by Roberta Gasbarre and Musical Directed by Elizabeth Fulford. An annual tradition for The Washington Revels, the show explored a new profound theme for the 33rd production. The dual relationship of man and nature was pronounced through a community that resembled a close-knit family, which drastically pulled me into a continuity of art. The show included laughter and fun along with singing and dancing, but more importantly dived into a deeper meaning of reflecting upon mankind, seasonal changes and human involvement with the earth.
The show began with Greg Lewis (Executive Director of The Washington Revels) walking down the center aisle with a spotlight shining on him, eventually taking a stance front and center, he welcomed the audience to the performance. His costume started a color stream with a pale yellow that increasingly created a rainbow circling the auditorium in an arc with hues of purple, red, green and blue all dressed in medieval costumes, set by Costume Designer Rosemary Pardee.
Lewis, the song leader of the production, instructed everyone to sing “The Boar’s Head Carol,” which is included in the program. At that moment, I immediately realized, The Washington Revels do not believe in a fourth wall; with the house lights on, I sang along with the cast. A cast of Solstice Singers, Yuletide Teens, Holly & Ivy Children, and guest artists of over 100 members from ages eight to 85 harmoniously sang as the five Royal Brass instrumentalists played.
Buckling my seatbelt, I knew I was in for a ride, even a treat, because the creative juices of artists flowed vibrantly. Women walked elegantly dressed in long medieval wear with braided hair of gold satin, as men with pompous sleeves of renaissance held their head in an empyreal fashion, while children would gambol along the aisles of the auditorium. I sang and rejoiced with the cast as they continued to sing; birthing love through a communal upheaval. As the cast dispersed from their arc, I noticed leaves and symbols of nature incorporated into the costumes and even make-up. A fabulous idea, to consciously and even subconsciously bring light to our necessity to connect to nature.
Royal blue curtains rose revealing a beautiful scene while birds chirped and leaves fell from the sky draping a medieval castle and village. The entrance of the King, Shane Odom (also, the mask maker of the costumes) takes precedence as he is introduced by a processional of bearers. “We consecrate this Holy space…,” Odom proclaims after his entrance and before the village dances in “The King’s Dance.”
Throughout the journey of song and dance with live musical ambience, I couldn’t help but notice the brilliance of Mark Jaster, the King’s Fool. He, might I add, is a multi-talented actor that caused such laughter, I had to contain myself. His body language carried through with such bravado that his facial expressions made his humor even more hilarious.
Voices of angelic children filled the room with an air of resilience and innocence, as I listened intently longing for such sounds to continue forever. Lucy LaNave, a teenage singer in the trio “Ivy, Chefe of Treis” or “Ivy, Chief of Trees,” instantly caught my attention as she held her gaze upwards, singing like a bird preparing to take flight, flapping her wings with grace, her voice resembled the remembrance of a sweet taste.
The story went on in a land of dreams, leaves shifting figuratively, changing seasons and altered greetings. Children honored the Woodland Queen, Gwen Grastorf, with leaves, symbolizing the importance of man’s connection to earth. The Woodland Queen’s dress consisted of different shades of green that embodied her prowess and emphasized her calm essence. This eco-friendly show includes so many entities that eventually brought forth the Green Man, Shane Odom, a new character for the production. The combination of nature and greenery were constantly intertwined within each scene.
“Lighted candles in the winter trees/They hung their homes with evergreen…singing, dancing, to drive the dark away,” is an excerpt from the poem “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper, which was included in the program. It was sung right before, “Sussex Mummers’ Carol,” the popular parting song in all The Christmas Revels across the nation.
The Christmas Revels is an interactive show that makes sure you are in the holiday spirit. If I had a medieval costume in my back pocket, I would have changed and walked on stage to be a part of this wonderful cast. I never knew what was coming next, and I thoroughly enjoyed the suspense of being on a holiday season roller coaster. I was not expecting half of the props or even puppets (an awesome feature of the show) to be included, nor was I expecting to dance the night away with cheerful songs and laughter.
I advise you to attend The Christmas Revels’ A Medieval Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance and Drama with your whole neighborhood; just rent a Greyhound bus, drive to Lisner Auditorium and immerse yourself in an atmosphere of veteran and amateur Revels, and allow them to once again bring forth a melody of memories.
A special kudo to Colin K. Bills for his amazing set and lighting design and : Kenny Neil for his crystal clear sound design.
Washington Revels Company: Solstice Singers, Yuletide Teens, Holly & Ivy Children, and the Royal Brass.
Guest Artists: Piffaro (The Renaissance Band), Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, Gwen Grastorf, and Shane Odom.
Running Time: Two and half hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
The Christmas Revels: A Medieval Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance and Drama plays through December 13, 2015 at the George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium – 730 21st Street NW, in Washington, DC. For ticket, call the box office at (800) 595-4849, or purchase them online.