MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And this week we're bringing you our annual show on traditions. Coming up we'll swing by a glowing megawatt extravaganza of Christmas cheer at one D.C. home. And we'll continue our own "Metro Connection" tradition with the return of our weekly trip around the region, Door To Door. But first, let's turn to a Washington tradition that's been going strong for 30 years. A tradition that just so happens to sound like this…
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
These festive tunes are among the dozens you'll hear in the Christmas Revels, the annual solstice celebration put on by…
MR. GREG LEWIS
…a local group dedicated to performing traditional music, dance and stories all year long. Greg Lewis is their executive director.
Last year we did a total of 55 different programs, of which The Christmas Revels, albeit our biggest, was just one.
The Washington Revels are among ten nonprofit, independent Revels organizations across the country. And of all the professional and nonprofessional singers, actors, musicians and dancers involved here in D.C., Lewis says…
Well, I probably go back farthest.
So far back that he can remember Washington's very first Christmas Revels in 1983. Unlike the 2012 incarnation, a two and a half hour spectacular spectacular with 100 performers, dazzling costumes and a splashy, multi-story set, the original production was far simpler.
We had a bunch of trees dotting around and the director said, just don't stand behind a tree. And that was it. There was no other--blocking notes didn't exist. It was, don't stand behind a tree.
Every Christmas Revels has a particular theme. And back in 1983, that theme was medieval English.
And we've probably done English, oh, I don't know, seven, eight, nine times.
But since then, the Washington Revels have moved farther afield, exploring Celtic…
Even Russian, Scandinavian and French-Canadian. This year the Washington Revels are revisiting their 1984 theme, Haddon Hall, one of England's oldest and most romantic manor houses. The year is 1929 and on a dark and snowy solstice eve, the 9th Duke of Rutland brings his wife and children to his long-abandoned family home, with plans of selling it to make way for a new road.
But the Duke's only half right. No one living has been here for 217 years. Each winter solstice, spirits of Haddon Hall's former residents appear to make merry on this shortest day of the year.
But, spoiler alert, after dancing and singing with these cheery ghosts all night long our Scrooge-like Duke ditches the bah-humbug and decides to save Haddon Hall.
Now, lest you think this story sounds like mere visions of sugarplums, executive director Greg Lewis says, think again.
The story that was portrayed is true. It actually was. The 9th Duke of Rutland was going to take it down and there was going to be a motorway. And we're not exactly sure whether it was Revels ghosts that persuaded him otherwise, but we think it makes a nicer story.
We, in this case, are Lewis and his fellow Revels directors, Roberta Gasbarre…
MS. ROBERTA GASBARRE
I'm the artistic director of Washington Revels and the stage director of the Christmas Revels.
…and Elizabeth Miller.
MS. ELIZABETH MILLER
I’m the music director of the Washington Revels and of this Christmas Revels show.
Gasbarre joined the group in 1991, Miller in '93. And while long-timer Greg Lewis still has her beat, Miller says she's been around long enough to get a powerful sense of the Revels' continuity.
We get assigned stage families. And in one of my early Revels shows, my child/daughter that year, Rhianna Nissen, is, this year, my assistant music director. So I've had her start from a child and now she's sort of graduated to the production level.
And she's not alone, says Roberta Gasbarre.
We have a little saying that says, once a Reveler, always a Reveler. And we consider that for the audience as well. They are a vital part of the show. It's exciting to see them all singing and dancing in the aisles.
Not sure how I failed to mention that one, the audience. Listen, if you think watching 100 people singing and dancing on stage is a spectacle, imagine more than 1,000 people doing the same thing in the audience. Audience members leap in and out of their seats during "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and during the Act One finale, "The Lord of the Dance," they clasp hands and snake their way through the aisles.
And the fun is when people who first came, they brought their children. Now, their children are bringing their children. And oftentimes we'll have four generations in the audience. I don't think we've ever hit five, but we've had a good number of fours.
And if the Washington Revels keep on keeping on for another 30 years, who knows? It may just be a matter of time.
The Christmas Revels runs one more weekend at the George Washington Lisner Auditorium. For performance information and to see the flying canoes from the 2008 French-Canadian Christmas Revels, no joke, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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