The Revels has moved from the Luke to the Lobero with this bold Christmas show, an evocation of a Victorian Christmas set in London’s Covent Garden and the Lyceum Theatre. Ambitious in scope and attention to detail, the show brings together many sides of city life, from the raucousness of the music hall and the street to the harmonies of “Dona Nobis Pacem.” Some compelling recurring characters knit together the disparate scenes into a satisfying whole.
As the impresario Thaddeus Hatcher, Ken Ryals moved fluidly from comic interludes with Henry Croft (Matt Tavianini) and Vesta Victoria (Diane Stevenett) to conducting the audience participation version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and singing “Parting Glass,” touchingly accompanied only by Laura Hackstein’s violin. A Cockney-fied Tavianini as Croft playfully provided the underclass counterpoint to Hatcher’s bourgeois view from above, thereby ensuring him many of the night’s biggest laughs and giving him a wide range for displaying his considerable skills as a dancer, mime, and broom handler. As the music hall performer Vesta Victoria, Stevenett easily encompassed both sides of this divide, seducing Hatcher with her box-office appeal and matching Croft in the street smartness of her wit. Appearing first as Melissa in the main show, and then as the Mother in the second-act melodrama “The Sad, Sorry, and Tragic Tale of Jacob Marley,” Emily Jewell also anchored several of the ensembles, including the Mill Girls Northwest Clog Dance and the protest ballad “Four Loom Weaver,” sung in haunting three-part harmony with Alissa Jewell and Natascha Skerczak.
One core principle of the Revels approach is that the audience participates in some of the numbers. And the process begins as soon as the show does, with members of the cast already in characters as street criers, entering through the aisles rather than from backstage. The first big boost to the community feeling of the night came when the Coastal Brass Ensemble, the Solstice Singers, and the Yuletide Children’s Chorus broke into the familiar strains of “The First Nowell.” Arrayed in their period costumes against the Covent Garden backdrop, this large chorus was irresistible, and the necessary magic was in place from that moment on.
For audiences used to either contemporary commercial Christmas fare or the more familiar traditional Christmas pageants, the Revels ought to be a revelation. Open to history, full of skilled and nuanced performances, and overflowing with heart, it’s an opportunity to reconnect with the spirit of Christmas while learning about it in the process.