‘A Little Bit of Ireland’ features the soprano Mara Bonde Ricker

“A Little Bit of Ireland,” Reagle Music Theatre’s annual musical celebration of all things Irish, returns to the Robinson Theatre in Waltham for three performances only on March 11 and 12.

Conceived and directed by Reagle’s Producing Artistic Director Bob Eagle, the revue features Reagle’s own Irish Tenors and adult choir, classic step dancing, the comedy of Harold “Jerry” Walker, the heavenly sounds of the Massachusetts Harp Ensemble (founded by Judith Ross), a cast of 100 plus a full orchestra, all of which makes the Reagle production one of the largest Irish shows in New England.

Featured soloist this year is the soprano Mara Bonde Ricker.  Living in Concord with her husband and children, Mara is renowned as a gifted crossover artist, equally at home singing The Great American Songbook or appearing with the finest opera companies from Sarasota to Lake George. 

Originally from South Hadley in western Massachusetts, Mara is a graduate of Mt. Holyoke College where both her parents were music professors.  She subsequently earned her master’s in vocal performance at Boston University where she was invited to join the Opera Institute. 

She was also a Fellow at the Aspen Music Festival and one of 12 singers selected to study at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh, England, with opera legend Joan Sutherland.

Locally she has performed with The Boston Pops, The Handel & Haydn Society, Boston Baroque, and Boston Lyric Opera, among others.  When she toured with Boston Musical Theater, she delighted audiences from Belgium to South Korea.
Reagle audiences will remember her well as Sarah Brown in the 2015 summer production of “Guys & Dolls” as well as in the company’s annual Christmas revue.  

We spoke about “A Little Bit of Ireland” as she and Bob Eagle were discussing the running order for the show:

Q. The production standards are always incredibly high at Reagle.  What will you be singing during your spots in the Irish revue?
A. The first song I’m going to be doing is “Come Back To Erin” . . . I love these songs, they’re absolutely beautiful.  Another is “Ireland Mother Ireland” -- I believe that’s going to be with the harps . . . And then there’s some fun stuff -- the “St. Patrick’s Day Parade” song.  And of course “The Irish Blessing” in Act Two.  Very poignant.  Then we end it with “It’s A Great Day For The Irish.” I was just listening to the Judy Garland (version) of that and I said, “This is so much fun!’”

Q. You’ve been a member of the Reagle family for a while, but this marks your first time in “Little Bit of Ireland.”
A. I brought my kids to see this show a couple of years ago and I fell I love with it . . . I always bring my kids to see the summer shows . . . “Carousel” and “Kiss Me Kate” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” . . . They love them.  I think it’s so important for kids to be taken to these shows.

Q. As a child, you were surrounded by music.  What was that like?
A. My Dad was a professor at Mt. Holyoke for 34 years . . . he was teaching theory and composition.  My Mom was a piano instructor at Mt. Holyoke as well, for about 8 years.  She does private piano teaching now. They did a lot of piano four hand concerts together. Their music studio was down on the lowest level of our house . . . and from when I was very, very little, I grew up hearing all this music through the heating vents.   

Q. Did you ever join in?
A. My Dad is a classically trained pianist but he’s also a jazz musician, so he always had the “thousand song-sheet” book around the house. He would grab that and say “Come on Mara, let’s go sing some of these songs.” So I started singing those – The American Songbook and jazz standards – from when I was pretty little.

Q. We think of operatic voices as being so strong and powerful.  Do you do anything special to protect your voice?
A.  I don’t smoke, I never smoked.  You don’t drink a lot, even though I may want my glass of wine once in a while. (Laughing) I do have them, but if I know I have to sing the next day, I won’t drink anything because it’s so drying.   And I am crazy about taking my Airborne when I go on an airplane. Getting a cold is the worst, ever.  . . . It feels like your super powers are taken away! . . . We’re just so protective of our instruments.  It isn’t like an instrument you can pull out of the case and dust it off and polish it up.  We carry it inside of us. 

Q. A couple of rapid fire questions.  Favorite American Songbook composer?
A. Oh, gosh . . . In terms of the jazz standards,  I am enamored of Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain Or Come Shine.”  It’s one of my favorite things to sing.  I absolutely love it.  Sometimes you find a piece that just fits you. It’s kind of like trying on clothes and seeing what works and what doesn’t work . . . It just feels really good.

Q. And classical?
A. Sinking my teeth into classical pieces and some of the operas, Mozart is one of my most favorite composers.  If I really had a different voice in the world of opera and I could sing all the major Puccini leads, that’s what I’d really want to sing, too.  I can sing some Puccini, but I don’t have the big, big opera voice for it.

Q. If you could invite anyone, past or present, to sit in the front row at Reagle and hear you sing, whom would you choose?
A. The first person who pops into my head . . . is Ella Fitzgerald. I regret that I never heard her sing live. I just absolutely adore her.  I know everybody else does too, but when I hear that sound, she makes me melt. 

R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com
“A Little Bit of Ireland,”  March 11 (2 & 7 p.m.) and March 12 (2 p.m.), Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham. Info: reaglemusictheatre.com or 781-891-5600.