David Bazemore

Santa Barbara Revels, the community organization responsible for presenting charming and historically accurate annual holiday performances at the Lobero Theatre since 2008, is back with a new theme: An Irish Celebration of the Winter Solstice. And, since this is a Revels production, that means something quite specific, as in the celebration of a group of Irish emigrants on board the S.S. Furnessia, a ship out of Londonderry bound for New York’s Ellis Island in December 1907. Getting the history right is just one way in which this fast-growing national movement succeeds in bringing tradition to life. The others include establishing a sense of community through participatory theater, song, and dance and giving area artists a chance to engage their creative and scholarly impulses. For example, this year’s production will feature the efforts of a young music director, Adam Phillips, who contributes original arrangements of historically correct versions of such Irish classics as “Danny Boy.”

Revels artistic director Susan Keller, who brought the idea to Santa Barbara, clearly enjoys the excitement and challenge of mounting this multidimensional production featuring nearly 70 performers. Keller also participates actively in the national Revels network and thus knows which of the themes in the Revels repository are popular. She reports that this Irish Christmas has been done “four times in the past, including at Cambridge [Massachusetts, a Revels epicenter]. There are also several other companies doing it this year, but we are the only one to set it on a boat.”

Popular Santa Barbara actor Matt Tavianini returns as a performer and makes his debut as co-director with Keller of the Mummers play. Last year’s Haddon Hall fool, Tavianini plays a sentimental Irish poet this year. Perhaps the most exciting addition will be dancers from the Claddagh School of Dance, led by Mia Leonelli, a UCSB student and Dos Pueblos graduate who has held the title of Western States Irish Step Dance Champion. Performances are on Saturday, December 20, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, December 21, at 2:30 p.m. For tickets and information, call (805) 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.


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