The holiday season is all about tradition. From food to movies to parties, there are special things families do each year to celebrate with one another.
These traditions also often include a theatrical performance.
The Guthrie has “A Christmas Carol,” the Pantages has “All Is Clam” and The O’Shaughnessy has “Celtic Christmas.”
On Friday, Dec. 11 Katie McMahon returns to the stage to perform the annual show.
McMahon is known for her singing role in Riverdance and has become Minnesota’s own “Celtic Woman.” Each year she takes to the stage at the O’Shaughnessy to share carols and stories steeped in Celtic tradition.
This year she will also be joined by mandolin and fiddle player, Peter Ostroushko. Ostroushko, known for his guest appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion,” will play a selection of his favorite Ukrainian carols.
McMahon took some time prior to the performance to chat with me about how the show became an annual tradition, as well as some traditions of her own.
As this show is performed annually at the O’Shaughnessy, how will this performance of “Celtic Christmas” differ from past shows?
McMahon: We always make sure to have many brand new music selections for each show. This year many of our new numbers are collaborations with Peter Ostroushko and include new Irish dance numbers. [We’ve also added] beautiful Ukrainian carols to which we’ve added an Irish twist and songs from Irish songwriters.
Sounds like there will be a number of new things this year! You mentioned Peter Ostroushko will be playing with you, what other types of collaborations will you and he be doing?
McMahon: Although Peter’s musical focus is Americana and Ukrainian, he has also extensively studied and played Irish tunes. He has taught us a beautiful new set of Irish dance tunes and with him we will be reworking “Carol of the Bells,” which is originally a Ukrainian New Year’s song that magically invokes the return of the birds and bounty to the land. I suppose it should really be called “Carol of the Birds!”
How interesting! I had no idea that was the origin of that Christmas carol. So, as you mentioned you’ll have a fiddle and dance in this year’s performance. What do you think adding these pieces does to enhance the carols?
McMahon: Since I started this show in 2000, we’ve always had a fiddler and dancers involved. For me it is what gives the show it’s special Celtic feel. The fiddle reminds me of the human voice, sometimes raucous and rhythmical and other times sweet and emotional. The Corda Mor Irish dancers are an essential element of our show, adding a rousing visual element that everybody, but especially children, love.
I can see how having that visual element is really exciting for the audience. Tell me, what song are you most excited to perform?
McMahon: This is a hard question. I love the music I have picked and am really looking forward to sharing it with the audience. I suppose if I had to pick one, it would be “A Spaceman Came Traveling,” which sounds like a bizarre name for an Irish Christmas song, I know! It was written by an Irish singer-songwriter named Chris de Burgh and was No. 1 in the charts when I was a teenager. “Celtic Woman” have recently recorded it and I am excited to see how our version turns out.
I can understand how performing a song that was popular when you were a teenager holds a special place in your heart! So, you’re originally for Dublin and have traveled all over performing, I’m curious how performing in Minnesota is different than performing in Dublin.
McMahon: Dublin audiences are ruder and more raucous, while Minnesotans are more polite and genuine with their appreciation.
That’s quite the juxtaposition! What do Minnesota audiences bring to a show that other audiences around the country, or world, may not?
McMahon: I have lived in Minnesota for 15 years now, so it really is home and it’s always nice to play your home crowd. As far as I’m concerned, Minnesota nice is a wonderful thing. Audiences in Minnesota really show their appreciation in the nicest of ways!
That’s great! It’s nice to hear that the reputation is real. So, as this is an annual holiday show, what is one of your favorite holiday traditions? (Aside from hosting the show).
McMahon: My favorite holiday tradition is taking the whole family to the Dubliner on Christmas Eve afternoon for a Christmas pint. Our children are too young for Guinness yet, but there are a lot of kids there that afternoon so they enjoy themselves. Then when we return home, Kristkind has been lighting the real candles on our real Christmas tree, part of my German mother’s tradition, and leaving us all presents under the tree. After that we have a dinner of wild Irish smoked salmon that my mother posts all the way from Co. Kerry. I can’t wait!
McMahon will perform “Celtic Christmas” on Friday, Dec. 11. The show will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $14 – $28 with discounts available for students, seniors, military, MPR, TPT and groups of 10 or more. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 651-690-6700 or visit the O’Shaughnessy online.