`Joe Fearless’

Corrections or additions?

These reviews by Simon Saltzman were prepared for August 9, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Reviews: `Riverdance’

An undisputed phenomenon of the dance and theater

world,

"Riverdance" has made a spectacle of Ireland’s native dance

and culture. That it has gradually embellished its lavish and

slavishly

Irish-ized program of mass step dancing with musical and folkloric

elements from other cultures provides devotees with encouraging bits

of freshly interwoven entertainment.

Having been awed by the large, impassioned troupe that regularly fills

arenas as easily as does the Barnum and Bailey Circus, I approached

the latest edition, now at the Gershwin, Broadway’s largest theater,

cautiously, yet with the expectation of getting caught up in the whirl

of fierce and frenzied feet. A far more intimate venue than the show’s

previous home at Radio City Music Hall, the Gershwin allows individual

personalities

to peek through this international company of 80 singers, dancers,

and musicians. Whatever you may think, stomping feet and rigid bodies

flying across the stage in various patterns and purposes can be

viscerally

exciting, especially when enhanced with acrobatics, attitudes, and

even a turn or two sur les pointes (pardon the French).

But my best surprise was discovering that, on the night I attended

the show, the principal male role, usually danced by Pat Roddy, would

be danced by understudy Conor Hayes. Actually great news for a critic

who may chance to see the making of a new star.

If the nature of step dancing appears more spectacularly demonstrated

by the combined two-dozen male and female corps, the Riverdance solos

appear more of the same only a little more intricate. Just as none

of the soloists in the Radio City Music Hall shows can compete with

the presence and precision of the Rockettes, the opportunities for

showing off an individual’s agility and speed are modestly offered.

One might say that this is where an individual’s unique personality

must take charge, since uniformity and precision are strict demands

of the genre’s technique.

With that said, Hayes does indeed have that extra-special something

that makes him stand out from the crowd. In particular, Hayes makes

a solid impression when supported by three other dynamically charged

Irish dancers as they respond to four loose-limbed black tappers in

a challenge dance, "Trading Taps." Principal female dancer

Eileen Martin moved like a breeze, and sometimes like a tornado,

through

her solos, especially memorable for her fouettes as "The Countess

Eileen." In this edition, the Moscow Folk Ballet performs a

whirling

balletic and acrobatic "Russian Dervish" that offers a

breather

from the Irish step dancing, while Maria Pages, a sensuous flamenco

dancer, displays Spain’s own genre of fancy footwork in a couple of

audience-pleasing numbers.

Although amplification renders the lyrics of composer Bill Whelan’s

folk songs inaudible, Brian Kennedy’s lofty tenor voice makes whatever

they were seem warm and loving. The clear bell-like soprano voice

of Sara Clancy adds a feminine texture to their duet "Lift the

Wings." The Amanzi singers from Africa, led by Tsidii Le Loka,

formerly of "Lion King," get the audience clapping

rhythmically

through a couple of rousing numbers — "I Will Set You

Free,"

and "Let Freedom Ring," and through their patriotic finish

"Endless Journey," which presumably alludes to the show’s

effort to affect a multicultural agenda.

The show still, however, imagines itself primarily as a

quasi-historical,

magical, mystical, fantastical homage to Irish legend. As such Robert

Ballagh’s impressionistic moon and sun settings, enhanced by Rupert

Murray’s lighting, create a mix of medieval and modern atmospherics.

The numerous costumes designed by Joan Bergin are colorfully quaint

and science-fiction. As narrated with dawn-of-creation-like austerity

by the voice (from beyond, via tape) of Liam Neeson, the show casts

its undeniable spell. A highlight for my eyes and ears is the

Riverdance

Orchestra, seated on either side of the stage. The musical interludes,

including virtuoso turns on the fiddle, Uileann pipes, drums, guitars,

and accordion, offered joyous and celebratory affirmations of the

Irish temperament and musical heritage. HH

— Simon Saltzman

Riverdance, Gershwin Theater, 222 West 51 Street, New

York. Ticketmaster, 212-398-8383. $25 to $80. Performances continue

to September 3.

Top Of Page
`Joe Fearless’

There are more exciting slam dunks than smart deliveries

in "Joe Fearless (a fan dance)," a new fast-paced comedy with

dancing and music about a man’s obsession with basketball. Liz

Tuccillo’s

script, about Joe Connelly (Michael Leydon Campbell), a basketball

fanatic who would rather die than live if the K9s, his favorite team,

do not win the NBA finals in their first appearance in 25 years, is

only fitfully amusing.

But you probably won’t care. Joe’s disintegrating personal life, that

is after he loses his job, his girl friend, and his wife and daughters

who walk out on him, necessarily pales in the shadow of the games.

But when did one sports fan’s personal problems ever compare to the

anxieties and win-lose immediacy of a crucial game? As the

"Fearless

Flygirls" lead the cheers, and a cynical radio announcer and a

gung-ho whistle-blowing court-side referee keep us abreast of all

points, turnovers, and fouls, the destiny of Joe Donnelly is decided

on a single point, depending on the outcome (which is not a sure

thing)

of the game.

Imaginatively conceived by Tuccillo to pit the exalted passions Joe

feels for his team that works as an integrated family unit against

the repressed and precarious relationships that make up his personal

life, the game, as the center of all life, gets a hot and hearty

workout

thanks to two hot and humorously envisioned teams, the dramatic

characters,

and the fans in the bleachers (us), who know that a life hangs in

the balance.

The integration of life on and off the court by director Craig

Carlisle,

the basketball games and choreography by Taro Alexander, the hip hop

music by Keith "Wild Child" Middleton and the lampooning

Fearless

Fly Girls cheers by Danielle Flora and Laura Sheehy are refreshing

and spirited. The two teams, comprised of ex-players turned actors,

deliver the kind of game that could make a fan out of you. If you

are up to it, the audience is encouraged to participate in a

free-shoot

intermission. I chose to watch. At the performance I caught, the women

seemed to be on a par with the men. HH

— Simon Saltzman

Joe Fearless, Atlantic Theater, 336 West 20 Street, New

York, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $35.


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