There are few things more powerful than memories of childhood Christmases, partly because of the magic and anticipation, and partly because of the traditions and familiarity. As the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote, "All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street ..."
Into that "wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays," Thomas wrote, "I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find."
And thus "A Child's Christmas in Wales" was born, chock-full of memories of snow and packages, feasting and foolery, populated with friends and family and the postman and neighborhood toughs, all spending this day of all days in all their varied ways.
The tale was first intended to be read alone or aloud (Thomas was recorded reading it, and it is worth a listen), but in recent time it also has been turned into a charming theatrical, found onstage this season at Irish Classical Theatre Company. With an abundance of music underlining the mischief and merrymaking, it is a magical Christmas to behold.
That Vincent O'Neill gives a lyrical performance as the adult Dylan Thomas is no surprise; this is what O'Neill does best. The bigger news is Tyler Eisenmann as young Dylan, behaving as if he were born in those knee britches and speaking with a Welsh accent, and so comfortable with his stage family he seems to have grown up with them. Program notes say Tyler is a sophomore at Frontier High School. Expect to see much more from him.
Of course, he is surrounded by excellent castmates and mentors here, starting with director Chris Kelly and music director Joseph Donohue III, who also attended Frontier High School and is also a cast member. Donohue plays piano onstage in his magical way of making it look as easy as waving. His recent MusicalFare Cabaret partner Charmagne Chi is here as motherly Bessie, sweet as can be right until she has simply had enough of her impish daughters Brenda and Glenda (Brittany Bassett and Renee Landrigan, having a blast).
Gregory Gjurich winningly keeps a straight face as Bessie's wet blanket husband, Tudyr, while Nicole Cimato stays on her unsteady feet as tippling auntie Hannah.
Rounding out the party are Brandon Barry, Christian Brandjes, Megan Callahan and Karen Harty. Ben Michael Moran plays Dylan's father with deep-voiced pragmatism, and Michael Marie Roberts keeps it all together as Mother. The whole group is so in sync you can imagine all of them celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah and all future holidays together.
Favorite moments are watching Brandjes as the postman on his rounds, collecting a drink at every house. We loved when the Christmas pudding was served and guests discovered the meaning of the tiny toys hidden in their slices. Later, when young Dylan and the other children go for a prowl outside, they resemble a pack of Dead End Kids looking for action, making it up when they have to – hippos in the street?! – and teasing policemen behind their backs.
Extra fun comes in the evening, when we see that Dickens wasn't the only one who added ghosts to his Christmastime.
The music – some traditional, some new, some with new lyrics to familiar carol tunes – carries everything along as we wind our way through the special day. And, like Christmas often does, it gets a little slow in parts, a couple of scenes feel tacked on and, overall, nothing of import really happens.
In the end, though, the takeaway is one of happy satisfaction, providing one more day for the snowball of memory.
"A Child's Christmas in Wales"
3 stars (out of four)
Presented by Irish Classical Theatre Company through Dec. 15 in the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main St. Tickets are $49 at irishclassical.com. Recommended for ages 8 and up, although kids may have a little trouble with some of the accents.