Behind the Scenes with Brian O’Donovan

Lisa Condit recently spoke with Brian O’Donovan, who brings us the 16th annual A Christmas Celtic Sojourn presented by WGBH. The seasonal favorite will be at The Hanover Theatre on Tuesday, December 18.  Visit our website to purchase tickets and continue reading for highlights from the interview. 

Brian: I think we’ve established some sort of tradition there.

Lisa: You certainly have! Your program is so interesting to people. It makes them feel so good with the stories and the songs and the dancing. The Hanover Theatre has been here for ten years and you’ve been a part of that success. Tell us how the show has changed and what we can expect this year.

Brian:  The show came out of an NPR program that I produce that brings all of those elements, spoken word, holiday music, some Irish traditional music, sentiments of the season, and puts it on stage. I remember the very first time we played at The Hanover Theatre, the curtain went up, we looked at an audience that was ready to go. They had Christmas sweaters on. They sang every song with gusto. It’s such an amazing crowd you have out there.

We used to cover up the set from A Christmas Carol and then two years into it we said, “Why are we doing that? This beautiful million dollar set. Why don’t we just play on the set?” That really has contributed to making it a special night.

Lisa: The set itself is so quaint and filled with such great holiday spirit. A Christmas Carol takes place in London, and we are brought back to our Celtic roots with your show. It’s just really festive with the cobblestone streets and the wreaths on the windows.

Brian: And a little bit of snow on the roofs! What we channel is the teaming population of immigrants from the Celtic countries, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, who were in London in the late 1800s and early 1900s. So it’s perfect to express our Christmas spirit.

Lisa: We are very proud of the Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. It is one of our distinguishing featured and your show gives people a chance to hear it even before your show begins.

Brian: The first time that came up out of the ground, with the amazing power of that instrument, we were just blown away. I tell our new artists and cast members to set aside some time to take a look at this thing. You will not see the likes of it anywhere in the world. That starts us off.

This year we are looking to bring some new and dynamic talent. We have the winner of the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year award. She is from Edinburgh, Scotland. We have a string quartet. We have a wonderful concertina player. That is a traditional instrument in Ireland but not oft times heard on stages here in the U.S. Musicians, singers, dancers and, of course, what would Christmas be without the children from the Harney Academy of Irish Dance is Walpole, MA. We love bringing that range to the stage at The Hanover Theatre.

Lisa: There is such a variety, and every single performer is world class. And this show is appropriate for most all ages, which is a nice way to bring the whole family together.

Brian: We do some sing-alongs, as well. We hope to fulfill the Christmas spirit. We really feel a responsibility. When many shows today come on like Red Bull, we try to come on like a warm cup of cocoa.

People have said it’s like a community experience. People coming together and sharing what makes up realize that we’re still human, especially in a world that seems so divided, so broken these days. How important is the Christmas spirit, the Christmas message this year? We hope to bring that loud and clear.

And congratulations to everybody in Worcester. It’s getting a lot of attention these days as an up and coming place to be, place to live and resettle, and there’s good reason for that. We’ve been shouting that for a long time now, and people are starting to wake up and realize that because of places like The Hanover Theatre and other institutions that the quality of life in downtown is second to none. We like to think that we are a little part of that at Christmas time.