Reveling in the Season with the Santa Barbara Revels

Review | The Christmas Revels

The Santa Barbara Revels | Credit: Courtesy

The annual Christmas Revels at the Lobero Theatre is a festive opportunity each year to experience at least the celebration of Christmas/Solstice/Yule from the perspective of another culture, another place. Victorian England, Bavaria, Spain, Appalachia, a ship full of Irish immigrants… all have been the settings of Revels shows over the years.

Santa Barbara Revels, founded in 2007 by Susan Keller, follows in the footsteps of the other eight Revels companies across North America, putting on this annual celebration of the winter holidays with music, dance, and song appropriate to the place and time. Scripts rotate through the various companies every year, and costumes and props are even shared to lessen the financial burden on each company.

Our local company even wrote an original early California Revels show, presented first in 2017, when some performances were canceled due to the Thomas Fire, and then again in 2021.

The Highlands of Scotland in the mid-1700s was the setting for this year’s offering, where the celebration of anything Yule-related was harshly suppressed by the local magistrates of King James.

The clans gathered in their tartans with their festive songs and dances are stopped several times by the magistrate, played with great relish by James McCarthy, who repeatedly attempts to “catch” them celebrating. A nice touch was the audience roundly booing and hissing him when he appeared.

Bill Egan did a fine job as the Laird who leads the festivities, and Meredith McMinn was enchanting, as always, as the Storyteller. Tyler X Koontz and Matthew Weitzel humorously portrayed rival clan members with a score to settle.

Koontz goes on to anchor the guiser’s play — the Scottish version of a mummers’ play — with his signature high-energy slapstick chops, ably supported by Suzanne Rorick as the Black Knight, quite funny herself, as well as the rest of the cast.

Guest artists included champion highland dancer Beret Dernbach and the Santa Barbara Pipe & Drum Corps, a volunteer element of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

While the setting and era of the Revels shows change each year, there are common elements, including the rousing call of, “Join us and be joyous!” With multiple opportunities throughout the show to join in the singing, and even the dancing, it is an easy and joyful call to heed.

Watch for other Revels events throughout the year, such as a Spring singalong, Beltane maypole celebration, and Autumn equinox concert.


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