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Alpine-themed 'Revels' is an uneven trek

CAMBRIDGE -- "The Christmas Revels" arrives this year in lederhosen, with an Austrian/Swiss/Bavarian theme.

Of course, in this 36th annual "Revels" the core curriculum survives: There's the reliable magic of the dumpy-nimble Morris dancers, the singalongs, the masques, and folklore.

But the splendid, festive music is too often festooned with topical (pop)corn. The script jumps centuries with references to Homeland Security and "shock and awe." And Richard Snee, as Sankt Nikolaus , seems oddly disconnected and delivers (all-too-rare) historical tidbits in a monotone. He's been super in other roles around town. Could the problem be speaking through layers of beard?

All this Alpine drag makes an unsatisfying setting for "Revels" vignettes. The traditional retelling of the St. George and the Dragon story is rendered in faux-Teutonic togs, with, as the program notes, "shameless borrowings from Wagner and Freud." St. George, who in this version is renamed Siegfried (David Coffin), is in blinding silver gilt rescuing Brunnhilda (a towering Donald A. Duncan in the Valkyrie role) from Fafner. There's a clever bit involving little Linnea Coffin as a charmingly severed dragon's tail, but when Debra Wise (who plays multiple roles) turns up in Groucho gear as a pun-spewing "Dr. Frood," the "new" material is unforgivably lazy and certainly far from epic.

The work of a small army of talented singers and musicians is a consistent pleasure. The Weihnachts Chorus, the Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble, and the Bremen Town Musicians present traditional music and masques with skill and style.

Revels succeeds when tradition wins out over pastiche, as, for example, in the eerily elegant "Abbots Bromley Horn Dance," in which dancers in half-light hold antlers up to their heads while taking slow and stately steps.

You'll want to study your program to understand that the "Chlausezä uerli" ("Yodel Song") references an ancient Swiss custom that brings dancers together who wear bells bigger than restaurant-size lobster pots. And that the " Schuhplattler" ("Shoe Slapper") is a comical Tyrolean popular dance in 3/4 time that predates the modern waltz.

The theatrical peaks emerge from the simplest stagings, especially when tiny, clear-voiced Claire Dickson sings "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" ("Silent Night, Holy Night"). She is bathed in blue light, a serene and welcome presence after so much slapstick.

(Correction: Because of an editing error, a photo caption with a review of "The Christmas Revels" in yesterday's Living/Arts section misidentified the person who is seen with a dragon. The performer is Donald A. Duncan, playing Brunnhilda.)

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