Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

A Child's Christmas in Wales

Theatre Review by James Wilson - December 8, 2022

Kylie Kuioka, Dan Macke, Ali Ewoldt, Kerry Conte,
Jay Aubrey Jones, and Ashley Robinson

Photo by Carol Rosegg
Although Dylan Thomas was recounting his childhood in Swansea, Wales, when he wrote, "One Christmas was so much like another in those years," he could have been describing New York City's cultural landscape of practically every December in memory. Perennial favorites, such as Radio City's Christmas Spectacular, New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker, and a new Broadway production of the endlessly adaptable A Christmas Carol are just a few of the seasonal shows that provide nostalgic comfort in uncomfortable times. A comparatively newer entrant, having first appeared in 2002, is the Irish Repertory Theatre's production of A Child's Christmas in Wales. This chamber musical based on Thomas's prose-poem is beautifully sung and charmingly acted, and if it doesn't have the extravagance, pyrotechnics and froufrou of other holiday offerings around town, it's the equivalent of a perfect little stocking stuffer.

Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore, the musical pageant includes a cast of six immensely appealing performers who give life to a host of Welsh denizens, including a group of mischievous cat-hunting children, a fire-starting neighbor, tipsy aunts, and a notably glum uncle. Weaving together rich, poetic imagery with traditional Christmas songs and a handful of original compositions (all lovely) by Moore, the approach seems to manifest the observation presented by Dylan's father (Ashley Robinson) to his wide-eyed son (Dan Macke): "But my theory is that the singing of songs and the speaking of verse, which is what we do at Christmas, is the only fit way for humans to communicate with each other."

This is the sixth time Irish Rep has presented its version of Child's Christmas (and I rather regret not seeing it in any of the five previous engagements), but I can't imagine a stronger ensemble. Ali Ewoldt applies her supple soprano voice to wonderful effect, and her rendition of "O Holy Night" is truly divine. Likewise, Kerry Conte has an impressive range and offers a stirring and rare bit of Welsh authenticity with her performance of "Calon Lân." Kylie Kuioka and Macke are delightful (and thankfully not cloying) as impatient and excitable youths on Christmas. Rounding out the cast are Robinson, whose "Greatest Gift of All" is a musical highpoint, and Jay Aubrey Jones, who sings a plaintive Welsh lullaby "All Through the Night" among other songs, has a strong baritone that mixes well with the lush harmonies.

Moore's presentational staging effectively keeps the company downstage, often seated as if gathering everyone around the Christmas tree and piano (David Hancock Turner provides excellent accompaniment under John Bell's music supervision) to tell stories, sing songs, and occasionally ring bells.

Irish Rep regulars will note that John Lee Beatty's industrial and institutional set for Chester Bailey, the previous tenant, has been decked out in Christmas ornaments, wreathes and evergreens, creating an entirely different atmosphere than before. Michael Gottleib's lighting and David Toser's costumes add to the festivities.

For audiences experiencing A Child's Christmas in Wales for the sixth time–or even the first–the show feels warm, welcoming, and magically familiar. What could be a more ideal way to celebrate the Christmas season in New York?

A Child's Christmas in Wales
Through December 31, 2022
Irish Repertory Theatre
Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage, 132 W. 22nd St., New York Tickets online and current performance schedule: