Legendary acting teacher Stella Adler said there were two kinds of theater: the theater of ideas, and the theater of legs. Assuming she meant to be rather more admiring of the former than the latter, she would likely have preferred "A Christmas Celtic Sojourn , " up through Monday at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, to splashier, and leggier, holiday shows.
Sitting in an old leather chair, Brian O'Donovan, host of WGBH radio's "Celtic Sojourn," amiably led the crowd Thursday on a calm, nostalgic, and musically resplendent stroll through Celtic midwinter.
Everything about the starkly beautiful set ensured that effects never intruded on personality. The ensemble sat in a simple row, swapping tunes and songs beside a lone Christmas tree. A backdrop turned slowly from twilight blue to black, pinholed with snowy light.
The a cappella trio Navan began with a dark-lit Gaelic song. O'Donovan, in argyle sweater and dark jeans, paced the show with a casual mastery. When not coaxing holiday memories from the musicians, he read evocative poems and stories. Best of all was his own wry remembrance, seasoned with the scents that still transport him to his boyhood Christmases in West Cork: morning rashers (bacon) , and Brylcreem slathered on hair for Mass ; slow-roasting turkeys and cathedral incense.
Karan Casey's dusk-and-honey soprano may be the finest ballad voice in Ireland today. She displayed an entrancing ability to sing even the most ancient lines as though feeling them for the first time, and turned "O Holy Night," so often abused as a diva showpiece, into a whispered lullaby.
Irish singer Robbie O'Connell regaled the crowd with a vaudeville ditty about a Christmas cake so formidably baked it defied all efforts to devour it. His own gentle carol, "All on a Christmas Morning," was timelessly simple.
The Mulcahy Family offered richly traditional tunes, played in the prim old style the Irish call "the pure drop." O'Donovan's 13-year-old daughter, Fionnuala, sang softly, with an entrancing mix of youthful immediacy and vocal savvy.
Whenever the pace needed enlivening, O'Donovan welcomed gracefully acrobatic stepdancers Kieran Jordan and Nicholas Yenson, along with puckish, gray-haired Clare hoofer Aidan Vaughan. Instrumentalists tore off pulsing tunes, highlighted by Niall Vallely's winking concertina, Paddy League's sassy bodhran, and Shannon Heaton's quick-breathed flute.
The show never reached for an oompah moment, but in its quiet way was dynamic, brisk , and speckled with surprises. In an era when so much entertainment comes on like Red Bull, this was closer to cocoa -- or as O'Donovan might put it, the pure drop.