A Child's Christmas in Wales
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
December 11, 2010
A Child's Christmas in Wales at Irish Repertory Theatre is a quiet, mild-mannered adaptation of the well-known piece by Welsh author Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) where a man vividly recalls a childhood Christmas holiday in the early 1900s. Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore, the company's artistic director, this version features five performers and a singing maestro in a revue that moves through descriptions of yuletide feasts, frosts, and family antics, while inserting holiday carols both traditional and contemporary throughout.
The good news is that the six artists are top-notch, delightful performers, who each bring an individual charm to the proceedings. Kerry Conte, Simon Jones, Victoria Mallory, Ashley Robinson, and Martin Vidnovic all have their moments to shine, with music director John Bell accompanying the proceedings and joining in regularly with harmony vocals.
The veterans in the cast have impressive credentials. Simon Jones, with a list of Broadway and television credits a mile long, brings dignified yet lovable grandfatherly dimensions along with his warm character baritone. Victoria Mallory (who originated the roles of Young Heidi in Follies and Anne Egerman in A Little Night Music) is now a gorgeous lady in her prime with a knockout figure and a solid vocal technique that serves her lovely soaring soprano well. Martin Vidnovic received a Tony nomination for portraying Tommy in Brigadoon; he not only has a handsome healthy tenor voice, but I found him most riveting when reciting passages from Dylan's writings. Rounding out this stellar group are too very talented newer additions to the theatre world: Kerry Conte, a striking brunette with spot-on comic timing and a great set of vocal chords to match, and Ashley Robinson, a puckishly charming lad, with an infectious twinkle in his eyes. And let's not forget music director Bell, who does the impossible by playing and conducting the show while standing up behind a grand piano upstage of the actors. One musical element I did miss, especially in the group numbers, was the absence of a bass vocal line of any kind.
With a treasure trove of a cast like this, other aspects of the show were particularly confusing. The whole evening seems to be lost in the old and the new without a clear idea of what the concept is. The theatre space is more comfortable than many off-Broadway, but it does have some side seating and a large pillar stage right that provide challenges for the creative staff. From the start of the show, Moore has the performers place themselves in a row, standing or sitting on modern gold chairs, and that line-up rarely moves. Although Vidnovic and Mallory at stage right periodically turned to include the audience on that side, the other folks on stage were too far away to even try. This could be rectified with more movement throughout for whole cast, which would be particularly welcome during some of the livelier group numbers and duets like "Baby It's Cold Outside."
The set design is not credited to anyone, and appears to be a parlor setting left over from another show that has been randomly covered with faux trees, big and small, wearing nothing but small lights. I would like to see the parlor used and redecorated with some Edwardian touches appropriate to the piece. The lighting design by Mary Jo Dondlinger misses some opportunities by staying full bright a lot of the time. Some dimming on certain musical moments like "Silent Night" and a special for the actors' monologues would be welcome. Likewise the talented David Toser's costume design seemed unsure which direction to go in. The gentlemen wear suits that are a conglomeration of various styles, and the women are put in unfortunate fire engine red outfits that have shearing horizontally across the bust and waist, cutting them in half. The skirts are above the knee, making it awkward when they sit, and are trimmed with bits of feather and rhinestones that would seem more comfortable on the Vegas strip.
At just over an hour, the piece moves along well, with Moore keeping things at a brisk clip, and there are some sweet moments. From the information in the program, I understand that this piece was done last year at the Rep, so I assume it might become a regular holiday show for them. Some reworking of the approach might be a way to show this piece and its wonderful performers off to a better advantage.