musical

‘Civil War Christmas’: many moving parts

Artists Rep's holiday show brings American history to life and brings a fresh approach to classic carols

Why, when we think of “classics,” and especially “Christmas classics,” do we gravitate toward Great Britain? Of course that region’s written history extends further into the past, and their Pagan traditions have seeded many of our modern holiday expressions, from mistletoe to the Christmas tree. Of course most of our best-known carols hail from Britain—and one in particular, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, rules the winter theater. All of these yuletide flourishes are a tough act to follow, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Surely there are other stories, American stories, that can offer moral authority and spiritual enlightenment at Christmas time.

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

A Civil War Christmas, Artists Rep’s holiday offering, is many degrees removed from Scrooge, skipping across the pond to the banks of the Potomac River in 1864, near the end of the Civil War. As historical fiction, the play certainly passes muster, proving (as Hamilton has) that American history runs Britain plenty of competition when it comes to inspirational characters, interesting dialects and fluffy blouses.

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Film Review: “Sing Street” Hits All the Right Notes

The new music-driven nostalgia piece from the director of "Once" tells a tale of teen temerity in 1980s Dublin.

Boy meets girl; boy likes girl; boy starts band to impress girl. It’s a story as old as time, and “Sing Street”an exuberant musical from “Once” writer-director John Carney—tells it gracefully, with warm humor and a touch of bittersweet nostalgia. Music makes life better, the movie says. And if it doesn’t, it at least makes life seem better, and maybe that’s good enough.

In Dublin in 1985 there is an apple-cheeked 15-year-old boy, Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), whose life is being disrupted. His parents (Aidan Gillen, Maria Doyle Kennedy) are on the verge of splitting up, and money problems have forced them to move Conor from a posh Jesuit school to the working-class Synge Street school (a real place) run by the Christian Brothers. Here Conor is hassled by a bully (Ian Kenny) and an officious priest (Don Wycherley) before being taken in by Darren (Ben Carolan), an entrepreneurial red-headed weakling who knows how to operate at the low end of the totem pole. (Darren passes out business cards that don’t have a phone number because his family doesn’t have a phone.)

The cast of "Sing Street."

The cast of “Sing Street.”

At home, Conor dabbles on the guitar and eagerly watches “Top of the Pops” every week, absorbing his college-dropout brother Brendan’s (Jack Reynor) opinions on Duran Duran, Joe Jackson, and the like. This comes in handy when Conor notices Raphina (Lucy Boynton), a cool 16-year-old who lives in a girls’ home near the school and says she’s a model. Conor invites her to be in his band’s new music video. Then he tells Darren, “We need to form a band!”

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