Tomaseen Foley's Celtic Christmas December 1, 2010
By Glen Creason
Billed as “a Celtic Christmas” this show could have been anything from a belted out “Buala Bas” (Jingle Bells in Gaelic) sung with a brogue to Michael Flatley influenced, arms at the sides headbanded hoofing. Thankfully it was nothing of the sort but so much more. Since many of my favorite yuletide times were experienced in an Irish household I was hoping for some of that good cheer to jump-start the holidays in the right direction. Of course there was only talk about Irish coffee to create the proper mood but it wasn’t necessary to enjoy this sweet and gentle performance of old-fashioned storytelling punctuated by excellent Celtic folk music and some spirited dance. It does take some gumption to take five people on a bare stage and create a landscape with just words and sounds but Tomaseen Foley and his talented musical accompanists filled up the entire, great hall with warmth and good cheer. The current of Christmas was achieved early and when young Marcus Donnelly put his dancing shoes to the planks on stage the energy surged joyfully. The leisurely pace and perfectly mixed offerings just glowed like a good party at a rambling house in the land of the forty shades.
Foley is a master-storyteller and his tale “the Christmas Parcel” was at the center of this show, unfolding from his charming gift of Irish gab over the entire two-hour show.
It is a quaint but evergreen tale of a widow’s sadness parted by the largesse of neighbors in the parish of Teampall, a Ghleanntain in the West of Ireland. Even if you see the glimmering generosity and selflessness of the simple farm folk coming from the first phrases of the tale the ending will give you a lump in your throat the size of a pint of Guinness. Tomaseen does not rush it but sits on a plain lacquered stool out front and spins the story as interludes. The words draw you in but the music both stimulates and keeps you wanting to get back to the plotline.
Yet, these are exceptional musicians, not just space between paragraphs. Marianne Knight is a marvel with a heavenly soprano that sounds like the great singer Kate Rusby and mastery over several instruments. Every tune she touched was sweet including “the Kerry Christmas Carol,” “The Wexford Carol” and “Ned of the Hill” that transfixed the hall. William Coulter solos sparingly but his skill with the acoustic guitar is superb. The folk songs of this show stood tall with the buttressing of his work and the rare solos he did perform were transcendent. Brian Bigley on Uilleann pipes, whistle and flute had to be very good to stand with Knight and Coulter but he was in perfect harmony and quality with the band. Bigley and Ms. Knight also stood up and danced in one of the show’s most delightful segments, rattling the hasps with young Marcus Donnelly in breathtaking synchronicity. Still, the star of the show is Tomaseen Foley’s ancient skill at storytelling that demonstrated the human voice telling a good story is better than any electronic in the world. The ensemble finished the cozy evening with “oiche chiuin” or “Silent Night” as we have heard it for decades but the wild appreciation from the Cerritos faithful was anything but silent.