[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]
Elbow pipe? What on earth is an elbow pipe? Oh, of course, that’s the little piece of plastic or metal that you get so your plumbing can roundcorners. Right? WRONG! According to Michael Londra of A Celtic Yuletide, an “elbow pipe” is another name for the uilleann, an Irish bagpipe, with a far sweeter and superior sound to the Scottish version.
Celtic Yuletide, playing this Christmas at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco, is a lively and lovely and informative variety show of Celtic music and dance and storytelling. Londra, the genial host, formerly the lead singer of Riverdance on Broadway, is a fine Irish tenor with a wealth of interesting cultural information. Because of him, my wife now wants to celebrate Women’s Christmas, January 6th, when after two weeks of preparing all the celebrations, women rest and the men must take over all the work. Londra is from Wexford, Ireland, and—among other classics–gave a hauntingly beautiful rendition of The Wexford Carol, a traditional Irish carol originating in his home town.
Also beautiful was Sephira, Joyce and Ruth O’Leary, two immensely talented violinists, who sweep onto the stage in flowing diaphanous gowns, and play dramatic violin duets, with choreographed movements that emphasize the rhythm and harmony and power of their music.
Backing the whole show was an 11 piece Irish band, featuring—besides the uillean—the flute, and the bodhran, an Irish drum, and a wild Irish fiddle that created clapping and foot stomping excitement with its lightning rhythms. Major world-class foot stomping occurred often onstage, with a cadre of Irish step-dancers, who punctuated the ballads and carols and violins with rapidfire dance appearances that energized the audience every time.
The Marines’ Memorial Theater, built in 1926, is an intimate theater only a block and a half from Union Square, the major Christmas shopping area in San Francisco. Its walls are lined with pictures of past performers, reading like a Who’s Who of American stage talent: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, to name a few. With his Celtic Yuletide show, Michael Londra deserves to join this elite pictorial company.
“Nollaig shona!” (That’s Gaelic for Merry Christmas.)