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A Christmas in Wales

No airfare required

A children’s choir is a key element of The Christmas Revels, which this year will be set in Wales around 1900. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Revels

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This year, The Christmas Revels - an interactive holiday performance and celebration - will bring to Tacoma the customs, culture and music of Wales.

"Wales is a singing culture," said Mary Lynn, executive director of the Puget Sound Revels. "They sing in multi-part harmony at rugby games."

It's a perfect subject for the song-stuffed Revels, which each December celebrates a culture's winter solstice traditions through dance, music, theater and pageantry.

The performances, which have spotlighted places from Appalachia to Bavaria and beyond, occur in cities across the country, with each regional Revels group creating its own shows.

The first production of The Christmas Revels was in 1957 in New York City, and the format became an annual tradition in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where it was first staged in 1971. This is the first year the Puget Sound Revels has been set in Wales, but the Cambridge group first did a Wales-focused show last year.

"It's funny that it's taken forty-plus years," said Lynn, who started the Puget Sound Revels in 1994.

This year's revelry has a particularly authentic touch: The band accompanying the show is flying in from Wales. Deuair (pronounced day-ire) is a duo focused on reviving its country's traditional music.

"They're very interested in enlivening that culture," Lynn said. "Since what we like to do is enliven the traditions of cultures, they're a perfect fit."

Along with a fiddle, the duo is bringing with them a Welsh triple harp, which has three rows of strings, and an archaic stringed instrument called a crwth (pronounced something like "crooth"). A medieval instrument, it has survived longest in Wales, according to BBC presenter and antiques dealer Paul Martin. (See video at YouTube/i4EzXOuiPnU).

"We'll have instruments on stage that most of our audience will have never heard," Lynn said.

Deuair will be featured, and the duo will work with the rest of the ensemble accompanying songs and dances. The pair also contributed their knowledge of Welsh culture.

"They suggested things and added things from the heart of their tradition," Lynn said.

The show will also feature the Seattle Brass Ensemble and Seattle actor Tony Curry, who's starred in several Revels productions. This year, he'll play a Welshman returning from America to his hometown in Wales.

Just as important to the success of each production are two community choirs - one made up of children ages 6 to 12 years and the other of adults of all ages. These groups bring the total number of performances to around 70 this year, and some years' casts are even bigger.

"The whole concept of The Christmas Revels is that it intentionally brings together amateurs and professionals, children and adults, and it mixes in the audience in ways that most productions don't," Lynn said.

Some audience members will find themselves invited onstage to participate in the show, and among the production's traditions is the opportunity to dance in the aisles.

The Christmas Revels, 2 and 7:30 p.m, Saturday, Dec. 17; 1 and 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 18; 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 20; and 2 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 21, $12-$34.50, Rialto Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, or

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