It’s the 20th anniversary of the Puget Sound Revels, and so you’d expect a bigger production than most years. What you get, though, in this year’s Christmas Revels – set in 12th century England, and performed in Tacoma’s Rialto Theater – is a professional production that has the best music, most interesting plot and highest production values of any Revels in the last eight years.
Creating a professional-looking Revels isn’t easy. All but a few of the cast are amateurs who rehearse their folk-songs and dances after their day-job is over, and there’s a children’s chorus (16-strong this year), many of whom have never been on stage before. Sets are built by family members, costumes are sewn by friends. Even the paid musicians are sometimes a grab-bag.
But this year it all comes together with a resounding hurrah. Most successful of all is the plot, something the folk-tradition-based Revels doesn’t often come with, and this is spun out with engaging skill by five talented actors. As the rather harrumphing Duke of Rutland (Keith Dahlgren) and his cheery wife (Kate Witt) arrive at their ancestral home of Haddon Hall in December 1925 to take a last look before tearing it down to make room for the newfangled motorway, the spirits of centuries past (the Revels chorus) become embodied for a night of solstice revelry. Adam Furman and Sophie Clements play the upper-class Duke’s children with convincing charm, and as the jester Tony Curry pulls the whole thing together with his usual infectiously wicked humor.
Next comes the music. Fastidiously researched (where else are you going to hear a 13th-century motet performed in costume onstage?) and stunningly performed by both singers and a masterful trio of vielle/violin (Shulamit Kleinerman), gamba (Chris Briden) and recorder/percussion (Joanne Andrus), this Revels is a joy to hear, whether in simple children’s carols like “The Wren Song” or complex, mystical harmonies like “There is No Rose.” Seattle Brass, dressed as costumed players behind the hall’s pillars, play with smooth solidity.
Add in a magnificent set of faux glass windows, banners and enormous fireplace, plus an array of dazzling costumes from Norman Conquest to early Renaissance, a mummer’s play with a twist, funny audience participation and the usual breath-holding moments like the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, and you have a Revels to remember for another 20 years.
There are two more shows – don’t miss them.