Seasonal spirits aroused in Belfast by ‘The Music Box’

Combining angelic seasonal carols, rousing Gospel tunes, blustery blues and the hard-hitting Pogues’ song ‘Fairytale Of New York’ is quite an entertainment risk – but director and talented singer Peter Corry pulls it off, in aces, with his show ‘The Music Box’ at Belfast’s riverside Waterfront Hall Friday evening.

Now celebrating its 10th year, this seasonal cabaret lasting almost three hours rouses the holiday spirit with a dynamic blend of dance, song, poetry and fine music on a grand stage decorated colorfully with miniature white Christmas trees, enlarged red Santa hats dangling from the stage ceiling and even a couple of illuminated snowmen.

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Photos by ‘The Music Box’

So successful have these annual shows been, they’ve raised over 25,000 pounds for local charities, this year’s performances supporting Dance Resource Base.

Having started its life in the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra before moving to the Theatre At The Mill in Newtownabbey, both outside Belfast, this popular show – more than 60,000 people have enjoyed over 4,000 performers – has found its home for the last six years at one of Belfast’s leading venues.

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Such was the diversity of on-stage talent, audiences were wooed by the powerful voice of award-winning Kaz Hawkins in the African-American Gospel song compiled by John Wesley Work, ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain,’ before enjoying Corry’s pulsating interpretation of the traditional German carol, ‘O Christmas Tree,’ with the surprising accompaniment of musician Archie McCann, who played bag-pipes while walking through the aisles.

Actor and director, Ian McElhinney, added a fine literary touch to the evening with creative recitations on seasonal, often humorous, topics, such as Santa’s face-off with a computer and the tale of a Grinch, the fictional character made famous by Dr. Seuss.

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Both Corry and McElhinney combined their talents, supported by a choir around the piano, in a rousing interpretation of the rock ballad, ‘Fairytale in New York,’ dressed as two old friends meeting on a Belfast street.

With more than 100 performers on stage at times, many of them under the age of 10, dance routines required precise timing for which choreographer, Fleur Mellor, and her assistant, Gemma Quigley-Greene, deserve full credit. The sight of a group of very, very young Santas dressed in red costumes performing a lively ‘Jolly Roger’ movement; re-enacting the Bethlehem manger scene to a Corry-Hawkins duet, ‘The Power of Love,’ or singing the comical ‘I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas’ would bring a smile even to Scrooge’s face. Not to mention delicate ballet sequences.

Ian McElhinney, Peter Corry, Kaz Hawkins

Overwhelming applause followed Corry’s excellent rendition of the anti-war classic ‘Belleau Wood,’ about the short-lived truce during the World War I when troops ceased hostilities on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. His supporting choir and a touch of on-stage drama, including a soldier in military uniform, added to the poignant atmosphere. Watch out for a wonderfully free-flowing choreographed movement reflecting events in an everyday street featuring football supporters, quarrelling lovers, a parking attendant and a busker, to the song by Sara Bareilles, ‘Love Is Christmas.’

Full praise goes to a hard-working team, Corry, McElhinney, Hawkins, Mellor, Quigley-Greene, a seven-member band including pianist, sax player and accordionist, lighting and sound designers, Chris Workman and Phil McVeigh, wardrobe supervisor, Judy Kaye, the Harding Memorial Primary School choir, as well as performers of all ages from the Belfast School of Performing Arts directed by Wilfie Pyper and Adam Darcy, with Corry himself as artistic director.

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