There must be something unique and appealing about how the Irish observe Christmas, for there are no less than three shows in Orange County over the next two weeks that deal specifically with that topic.
There’s “An Irish Christmas” at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Nov. 26; “Sing! An Irish Christmas” at the Segerstrom Center of the Arts in Costa Mesa on Dec. 4; and “A Celtic Christmas” at Soka University in Aliso Viejo on Dec. 9.
“Irish Christmas is all about the community gathering to sing, to dance, to bake cakes,” said Margaret O’Carroll, founder and CEO of Kerry Irish Productions, Inc., which offers “An Irish Christmas” as part of Irvine Barclay Theatre’s World Stages Series. “We pick this time of year to gather, and there are rituals attached to that — a process of moving into the sacred season.”
“It’s a time for Christmas hymns and carols and the reading of the Christmas story,” said Keith Getty, who with his wife Kristyn are on their first West Coast tour for their concert “Sing! An Irish Christmas.”
In “A Celtic Christmas,” Eric Rigler, who just completed composing music for the fourth season of TV’s “Outlander,” will be performing alongside guitarist Dirk Freymuth and vocalist/flutist Nuala Kennedy (who will sing in English, Gaelic and Breton).
Their show will showcase Celtic traditions that not only include Ireland but also Scotland and Brittany, a region in northwest France.
“We’ll be serving up wide-ranging selections such as the more familiar Christmas songs from western Europe, some not as familiar from the Celtic regions, some of my soundtrack work, and Irish jigs and reels to get everyone's feet tapping,” said Rigler.
Rigler plays the Irish uilleann pipes, Scottish bagpipes and Irish/Scottish penny whistles. He and Freymuth recently filmed a 2017 PBS SoCal special, “Celtic Journeys: Songs and Soundtracks,” together in Costa Mesa, and the two of them will give two more performances of his Celtic Christmas show in San Pedro.
The Barclay’s “Irish Christmas” show, on the other hand, is more heavy on dance and has cultural elements such as the chasing of the wren and an homage to butter-making, said O’Carroll.
Though one of the lead dancers in “The Irish Christmas” is Caterina Coyne, a principal dancer from “Riverdance,” O’Carroll hopes audiences can see a spectrum of Irish dance that goes beyond the iconic show made famous by Jean Butler and Michael Flatley.
And “Sing! An Irish Christmas,” which is on its seventh annual tour, makes its Segerstrom Center for the Arts debut at Segerstrom Hall on Dec. 4. Ricky Skaggs, who was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year, will join them onstage, in addition to other guest artists Matt Redman, Joni Eareckson Tada, and the Master's Chorale.
“Sing!” mixes traditional Irish, bluegrass, Americana, classical, jazz, global/world, Christmas and modern sounds to produce an original, eclectic blend of music.
“The first half of the program is like a village festival celebrating Christmas, with dance and instruments and hymns,” Keith Getty said. “The second half is a Lessons-and-Carols experience, with readings of the Christmas story and singing of carols.
“Whether you’re Christian or not, you can’t deny that traditional carols have forged our lives throughout the ages, from Charles Dickens to Hollywood movies.”
Michael Rydzynski is a contributor to Times Community News.