Tomáseen Foley's 'A Celtic Christmas'
For the 11th consecutive year, Medford's Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater will be the last stop on the nationwide tour of native Irish storyteller Tomáseen Foley's "A Celtic Christmas." This year's matinee and evenings shows are at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 23, at the Craterian, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.
In Foley's words:
"One Christmas, when I was 10 or 12 years old, in the remote parish of Teampall an Ghleanntáin in the west of Ireland, where I was born and raised, we had a prodigious and prolonged snow storm, the likes of which happens in Ireland no more than once or twice in a lifetime.
"Snow was general all over Ireland that Christmas. The feathery snowflakes shawled field, meadow, bog, mountain and glen, gathering them all into a single magnificent silence. The snowy, smoke-colored crown of the hills seemed to glisten under the night sky, the stars like lights in the canopy of a glorious celestial Christmas tent, and we — my family and our neighbors, the spellbound audience.
"We were housebound for nearly the entire twelve days of Christmas. And just when everyone began to wonder if it would ever stop snowing — it did, a few days before Christmas, as I recall.
"But nothing, not even the biblical deluge of feathery snow, could stop the neighbors at our end of the parish from gathering at each other's houses at Christmas time. In fact, it seemed to encourage them, for these were the people who seemed to spin and weave the very patterns of life itself.
"They arrived, red-faced, wrapped in tweed and wool, their breath visible in the light of their lanterns, bearing the gifts of music, of song, of dance, and of story. Oh, how great the heart and how heroic the spirit that could find in so simple a ritual so much laughter and light.
"Life itself might not regenerate at that darkest time in the round of the year unless they were there with each other, in community, laughing, singing, dancing, playing music, telling stories, rekindling the flame in the hearth."
Foley seeks to recreate just such a night on stage and rekindle that same flame.
Rego Irish Records calls Foley a master of the Irish narrative and a keeper of the flame for a priceless piece of Irish culture. For each of the past 13 years, from Thanksgiving until Christmas, his show "Tomáseen Foley's A Celtic Christmas" has played to critical acclaim and packed concert halls around the United States.
His show "A Saint Patrick Celebration" tours from late February through mid-March; two other shows, "Tomáseen Foley's Irish Times," and his one-man "Lines from my Grandmother's Forehead" tour throughout the remainder of the year. Oregon Cabaret Theatre developed a musical from his story "Parcel From America." He has released two CDs: "Parcel From America," and a live recording, "The Priest and the Acrobat."
The show at the Craterian is the last stop in a tour of eight states, 11 cities and 14 performances in one month.
Foley weaves stories in between music and dance provided by his talented cast. The changes from year to year are subtle.
"It retains the flavor of the old," Foley said, "the heart, the tradition. It's slightly evolved."
New to the show this year is All-Ireland Irish fiddler and champion traditional Irish dancer, Katie Linnane. For six successive years (2000-2006) Linnane competed with distinction in many of the major dance competitions throughout Ireland, England, Scotland, the United States and Canada — including the North American National Irish Dance Championship, the All-Ireland-Oireachtas Rince Na hÉireann, British National Championships (2000), All-Scotland Championships (2003) and World Championships (2000-2006).
At the age of 8, she took up the fiddle, inspired by her mother. Taught by the legendary Willie Kelly, Linnane went on to compete both as a soloist and as part of a duet and a trio at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil Na hÉireann 2005.
Returning for the third year is uilleann piper Brian Bigley. From the time he was 8, Bigley studied the traditional, rarely heard, uilleann pipes with Achill Island (County Mayo) piper Michael Kilbane.
Bigley also studied flute, whistle and low whistle with Kilbane. He has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and the United Kingdom. He is also a world-class Irish step dancer, competing in the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland in 2002 and in Killarney, Ireland in 2003.
"The world of Irish music is actually really small," Foley said. "All over the world people know each other. Brian knew Katie. They live on the East Coast."
Bigley and Linnane will perform a dance from the old tradition of the fiddle and whistle players dancing and playing while seated in chairs.
New exclusively to the Medford shows is the voice of traditional singer Dan Conroy. Conroy studied Irish (Gaelic) and sean-nós singing with Lillis O'Laoire, professor of Irish Studies at Galway University, and studied theatre at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.
In 2002 he co-founded the band Clann na Gael and currently is the lead singer with Irish band Slugger O'Toole. He was appointed artistic director of the Celtic Arts Center in Los Angeles in 2005.
Music director for the show is steel-string guitarist William Coulter. In 2005, he won a Grammy for a track he contributed to "Pink Guitar," a solo guitar compilation of Henry Mancini tunes. Coulter has been performing and recording traditional Celtic and American folk music for 25 years. The most recent of his seven CDs on the Gourd Music label is the solo album "The Road Home."
So, are the stories Foley tells onstage true? He says "It didn't necessarily happen that way — but it's true. In may ways it's truer than what happened. It's as true as any story has a right to be."
Tickets for the matinee performance are $28, $24 and $19 for adults and $21, $17, and $12 for youth. Tickets for the evening performance are $29, $25 and $21 for adults and $22, $18, and $14 for youth.