When the big, multi-generational chorus of singers and dancers throngs the stage in the annual Christmas Revels show at the Hop (December 15-18) , there are always some familiar Dartmouth College faces among them.
This year’s Revels travels to the beautiful province of Québec in a magical, mischievous French Canadian tale embellished with traditional music, dancing, storytelling and tomfoolery. Helping to take the audience there are a number of college employees who are Revels regulars, including Geisel School of Medicine Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Obstetrics and Gynecology Julie Frew and Department of Physics and Astronomy Research Engineer David McGaw.
This year they are joined by a new face: Mary Ann Stanford, senior administrative assistant for North Park House and South House in the Office of Residential Life and spouse of James Stanford, associate professor of linguistics. Although a newcomer to Revels, she has been in just about every other Upper Valley theatrical group and venue since she started doing local theater about five years ago, she said. “I was in North Country Community Theater’s Oliver! the summer of 2011 and I have been addicted to theater ever since. I almost could not believe it was just as much fun as when I was in high school!”
Since then, Stanford has done other shows with NCCT, Opera North, Pentangle Players in Woodstock, the Parish Players in Thetford, and this is her fifth year singing with the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir directed by Walt Cunningham, Jr. Highlights include playing Almira Gulch, the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (Pentangle Players 2013), Mrs. Potiphar in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Pentangle Players 2014) and the mother of Evita in Evita (Opera North 2016).
Friends have been after her for years to try Revels, and this year she finally took the bait. She auditioned and was given an acting role and a spot in the chorus.
College employees have always figured among the parents of members of Revels’ Children’s Chorus, and this year include Katherine Madden, who has worked in the undergraduate admissions office for five years, recruiting and selecting the first year class, and also oversees visitor programming for both prospective and admitted students and their families. Children’s Chorus parents are essential to the show, helping keep kids calm, fed, watered and focused offstage so they can do their best onstage.
Madden’s older daughter, Campbell, got the Revels bug last year, and this year was joined by younger sister Mia. “For Campbell a year ago, it was about loving to sing and wanting to be part of a show,” said Madden. “We had not seen Revels as a family so she had no expectations. For Mia, she saw the show—with Campbell in it—three times last year and had the same realization as Campbell…that this was an incredible opportunity to be part of something that brings happiness and joy to so many people. Campbell felt that connection to the cast and the joy they were bringing to the audience. Mia saw that connection and joy and wanted to be part of it as well.”
Madden and her daughters value the cross-cultural and cross-generational nature of the Revels experience. “What I love is that they are singing and preparing for this show with members of our community who they don’t know and wouldn’t otherwise interact with. We love to see the intergenerational connections they are making, particularly with the teens who take them under their wing and make them feel included.” The girls are challenged, in a good way, she said. “They are both out of their comfort zones a bit so the stretch is good and carries over in to other aspects of their lives. I also appreciate they are working hard for a shared goal with a diverse group of people. That’s an important skill. But most of all, I love hearing them singing songs in French around the house without even knowing they are doing it. By now, the songs are just there, in their heads, and they are humming and singing as they go about their business.”
Now in its 42nd season, The Christmas Revels is a Yuletide show that each year focuses on a different one of the world’s cultures and its winter holiday traditions. The local chorus is joined by guest performers expert in the traditions represented in that year’s show. Recent shows have focused on Appalachia, Irish-American immigrants, Elizabethan England and Scottish culture.
The show centers on a story—this year, the tale of The Flying Canoe (la chasse-galerie), in which a group of lonely voyageurs in the northern timberland go to extraordinary (one might say devilish) lengths to meet up with their faraway sweethearts on New Year’s Eve. This traditional tale gets the full Revels treatment with colorful, high-energy songs, dance and pageantry, a multigenerational local cast and chorus, and guest artists steeped in the traditions: Québécois musical trio Genticorum and step dancer and choreographer extraordinaire Pierre Chartrand.