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
"Riverdance" has made a spectacle of Ireland’s native dance
and culture. That it has gradually embellished its lavish and
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
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
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,
her solos, especially memorable for her fouettes as "The Countess
Eileen." In this edition, the Moscow Folk Ballet performs a
balletic and acrobatic "Russian Dervish" that offers a
from the Irish step dancing, while Maria Pages, a sensuous flamenco
dancer, displays Spain’s own genre of fancy footwork in a couple of
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
through a couple of rousing numbers — "I Will Set You
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
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
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
York. Ticketmaster, 212-398-8383. $25 to $80. Performances continue
to September 3.
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
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
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
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
thanks to two hot and humorously envisioned teams, the dramatic
and the fans in the bleachers (us), who know that a life hangs in
The integration of life on and off the court by director Craig
the basketball games and choreography by Taro Alexander, the hip hop
music by Keith "Wild Child" Middleton and the lampooning
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
intermission. I chose to watch. At the performance I caught, the women
seemed to be on a par with the men. HH
— Simon Saltzman
York, 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. $35.
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