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Merry olde Christmas Revels

Celebrate the small (in a big way)

Musical director Megan Oberfield, from the 2012 production (which was also set in traditional England). Photo courtesy Puget Sound Revels

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As always around the holidays, the South Sound is chockablock with theatrical celebrations tuned to please entire families, from folks Santa and Mrs. Claus' age to their littlest elves. Why, right now you can, and should enjoy The 1940s Radio Hour at Harlequin Productions, A Christmas Story the radio play at Olympia Little Theatre, a musical version of the same story from Broadway Olympia Productions, Scrooge at Tacoma Little Theatre, Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol at Olympia Family Theater, White Christmas at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and/or Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus at Lakewood Playhouse. Whew! Holiday music abounds as well, with performances of Handel's Messiah in both Olympia and Tacoma and not one but three local productions of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. Yet, for this recovering Ebenezer, one annual tradition has become especially cherished: The Christmas Revels at Tacoma Arts Live's Rialto Theater.

It's a loose collection of songs, skits and instrumental performances highlighting a different culture, though usually European, each December. It calls to mind a British-holiday panto, and that's an especially fitting description this year given that the locale it'll visit is a 17th-century English village. There, the press release informs us, "the doings of the wee folk -- fairies, hobs, brownies, bogles and such -- are part of everyday life." A hob, by the way, is a mischievous elf or goblin, a bogle a goblin or visible ghost. There's something to be said for a holiday tradition that requires extra words for goblins.

As always, this year's production is directed by B. J. Douglas with musical direction by Megan Oberfield, who usually leads the audience in a couple of choral rounds. "This is my 25th year," Douglas says proudly. "My background is in vaudeville. ... When Mary Lynn wanted to start the Revels, she of course contacted people in Cambridge (Massachusetts), the mother ship. They asked a fellow who was a longtime friend of mine in San Francisco, who does the show down there, so he flew up on the weekend rehearsals to start it here. But he needed an assistant director, so he called me." When that director returned to California, Douglas was handed the reins. "I just stayed."

Once each year's location has been selected, Douglas starts researching, arranging and writing the show by reviewing other companies' productions and previous Puget Sound programs. "I'm a traveler on the Internet," Douglas jokes. She knows she can count on dozens of past performers to help. "At most we have like five new people a year, out of a cast of around 30. We have folks that have been with us for ... 18 years, which makes for a very easy working situation because there's trust on all sides. ... Jerks somehow don't get cast the next year." She notes many regular cast members perform only in Revels, not in other stage productions.

Expect a comedic mummer's play about Saint George and the dragon, the Twimble Tunesters' historic musical instruments including the hurdy-gurdy and viola da gamba, the Seattle Brass Ensemble and a charming, junior ensemble of wee beasties. "I think the wonderful thing about Revels is that it's always different and yet has elements that are always the same," Douglas concluded, "which is what tradition is, which we love this time of year."

THE CHRISTMAS REVELS, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 15; 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 16; 7:30 p.m., Tuesday-Wednesday, Dec. 18-19, Rialto Theater, 310 S. 9th, Tacoma, $12-$36, 253.591.5894,

Note: The 5:30 p.m. performance Dec. 16 will be American Sign Language-interpreted.

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