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Theater Review: ‘An Irish Christmas’

A musical solstice celebration

By Diana Barth Created: December 13, 2012 Last Updated: December 13, 2012
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Liz Hanley on the violin, from the 2011 Christmas show, “An Irish Christmas.” (Erin Baiano)

Liz Hanley on the violin, from the 2011 Christmas show, “An Irish Christmas.” (Erin Baiano)

NEW YORK—Presented annually for the past six years by the Irish Arts Center, this appealing celebration is entirely unique in the realm of Christmas programs. You won’t hear carols such as “Silent Night” or “Deck the Halls.” Instead you’ll be treated to a number of lively Irish jigs and hornpipes, Irish step dancing, and Philippine oral chants.

The show features a mix of tunes ranging from the traditional to the contemporary, including “The Holly, She Bears a Berry,” and “Christmas in the Trenches,” as well as singalong favorites such as “The Wren Song” and “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake.”

Leading the group of superior musicians is musical director Mick Moloney, who plays tenor banjo and octave mandolin. No one can be more authentic than Mick: He hails from County Limerick, Ireland, and performed with the Irish folk group, The Johnstons; he arrived in the United States in 1973.

Ably assisting is fiddle player Athena Tergis, who took up the violin at age 4. There is Liz Hanley who sings and also plays fiddle; Tamar Korn, singer; Donna Long, keyboard and fiddle; and Billy McComiskey on accordion. There is also storyteller Macdara Vallely.

Athena Tergis on the violin.(Erin Baiano)

Athena Tergis on the violin.(Erin Baiano)

One of the high points of the program is singer Grace Nono, who hails from the Philippines. Specializing in the singing of Philippine oral chants, her performing of these chants is remarkable. There is depth and passion, unlike any singing I have ever heard. Mick Moloney, who offered various comments throughout the program, pointed out that there are Celtic connections with these Philippine songs.

The remarkable dancer, Niall O’Leary, is not only a former All-Ireland and World Champion dancer who hails from Dublin, he is also an architect practicing in Manhattan where he also runs the Niall O’Leary School of Irish Dance.

Surprise guests also drop in at every performance. Such guests have included actor Gabriel Byrne, novelist Colum McCann, and New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn.

“Founded in 1972, the Irish Arts Center is a New York-based arts and cultural center dedicated to projecting a dynamic image of Ireland and Irish America for the 21st century, building community with artists and audiences of all backgrounds,” according to the Irish Arts Center’s website.

An Irish Christmas
Irish Arts Center
553 West 51st Street
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or visit irishartscenter.org
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Closes: Dec. 22

Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: www.diabarth@juno.com.

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