Traveling Celtic show makes its first-ever St. Louis stop — and features local artists
Natalie Wagner was 12 years old when she learned that her sister — who’d been taking Irish dancing lessons — was about to perform in the St. Louis St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Wagner remembers wishing she could be in the parade, too, and decided to take up lessons as well.
Eleven years later, Wagner is still dancing, enjoying the combination of rhythm and athleticism that the art form requires. And this month she makes her professional debut as a cast member in Tomáseen Foley’s “A Celtic Christmas.” The traveling show, now in its 26th year, is making its first-ever St. Louis stop on Dec. 13.
For Wagner, the opportunity is a dream come true.
“This is definitely a big step for me as a dancer who has always wanted to do something like this,” the Webster University graduate told St. Louis on the Air.
She has fellow St. Louisan Eimear Arkins to thank for sending the idea her way and for bringing the show to the Gateway City. Arkins, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist originally from County Clare in Ireland, has been involved in the Foley show since 2018 and is producing the St. Louis show at the Grandel.
“I really believe in the show. ... And it has meant a lot to me,” said Arkins, who plays fiddle, sings and also does a bit of dancing as part of the performance. “And so I really wanted to bring it here. And yeah, I made it happen.”
While newcomers to the spectacle may assume “A Celtic Christmas” is a kind of holiday “Riverdance” show, she notes that it’s something else entirely: a story-driven production set in 1940s rural Ireland.
“We have sort of lost an appreciation for great storytelling,” Arkins said. “We’re all so inundated with flashing lights and screens and sound effects and VR [virtual reality] that there’s something really special about someone commanding an audience with the power of their voice.”
At the center of the show is Foley himself, who shares the story of Christmas traditions in rural Ireland “where the neighbors would gather together before Christmas to share not fancy gifts and to watch screens and things like that, but to get together and share music and song and dance and stories,” Arkins explained.
“And neighbors at that time relied heavily on each other not just for camaraderie but for support,” she added. “Neighbors really played a huge role in helping each other through tough times and through good times.”
Arkins and Wagner have been rehearsing remotely for this month’s tour, connecting with fellow cast members over Zoom and other such tools as they collectively fine-tune dances, musical numbers and more. In addition to St. Louis, the full cast will be performing in places as far flung as Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and Medford, Oregon.
“As the newcomer I was a little nervous,” Wagner said of her involvement. “But I’ve just felt so welcomed by all of them. And [opening day] went just extremely well. So I’m very happy.”
On Monday’s show, Arkins and Wagner joined host Sarah Fenske for a conversation in anticipation of their St. Louis stop.
What: Tomáseen Foley’s A Celtic Christmas
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13
Where: The Grandel (3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis, MO 63103)
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.