Category: Archive

Flatley’s ‘Flames’: a feat of fun

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Eileen Murphy

They say that confession is good for the soul, so I’ll start with a secret: I love Michael Flatley.

I love him not because he’s rich, or blond, or rather nice looking, in a buffed-up, carefully coifed 40-something-guy way. Not because he can still dance rings around kids half his age. Not even because he has the guts to wear — in public — a leather sombrero and silver spandex jeans.

The real reason I love Michael Flatley is because he’s worked so darned hard to make me love him. He’s Rocky in a pair of clog-heeled shoes. He’s a bare-chested Fred Astaire. He’s Liberace with a bit of street cred.

For the thousands of fans who lined up to catch Flatley’s "Feet of Flames" extravaganza at Madison Square Garden last Friday evening, the star, not the play, was the thing. The show is basically a bigger, flashier version of "Lord of the Dance," but no one was complaining — they were there to see if Flatley, the ultimate showman, could still work the magic that shot him to stardom with "Riverdance." And Flatley didn’t disappoint.

From his first entrance, which was heralded by a flash of fireworks, to the finale two hours later, Flatley and his troupe of dancers had the audience enthralled.

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The nominal storyline pits the Lord of the Dance (Flatley) against the evil machinations of the Evil Lord (Stephen Brunning) and his masked minions. Each posse has its own ladies’ auxiliary, led by the willowy, graceful Bernadette Flynn as the F’ry Queen and Leigh Ann McKenna as the sexy temptress, Cleopatra. Flatley’s happy band also includes a beleaguered sprite (Helen Egan) whose chipper dancing and jester hat seem to enrage the meanies. It’s not giving away any surprises to say that the jester gets kidnapped by the evil forces, only to be rescued by the Lord of the Dance.

The star has obviously been pumping iron during his time off — with his bulging muscles and abs of steel, he looks more like the championship boxer he was in his youth than a championship Irish dancer.

It’s impossible not to compare "Feet of Flames" with its more restrained cousin, "Riverdance." But where "Riverdance" attempts to place Irish dance within the context of world dance, "Feet of Flames" merely incorporates world influences into the Irish idiom.

There are no moments of poetic narration, no long musical interludes. Flatley knows that everyone just wants to see the dancing, and he gives ’em what they want. But Flatley also knows when to withhold: his own dance numbers are judiciously spaced, to maintain the sense of excitement that greets his every entrance.

Where "Riverdance" paints with a delicate brush, Flatley uses an extra-large roller. His singer, Anne Buckley, slinks about in a collection of tight, low-cut gowns; his female dancers wear sexy, lingerie-inspired costumes; his male dancers strut around in leather trench coats and muscle shirts. Even his musicians look more MTV than Irish seisuin, with fetching blond fiddlers Cora Smyth and Mairead Nesbitt dancing around as Flatley plays the tin whistle. Flatley, the consummate showman, has a Busby Berekley-esque eye for the big production number, cannily using the video screens at either side of the stage to provide an overhead view of the big dance numbers.

The most endearing thing about Flatley is that he’s never been afraid to make the grand gesture — the kind that makes you cringe a little even as it transfixes you. His quasi-Egyptian move — twirling slowly with his elbows tight at his sides, palms flat to the ceiling — is a good example, though the flamenco move, with the frenetic clapping and high leaps, runs a close second. His most distinctive outfit, which features the aforementioned sombrero, leather trench and shiny silver pants, is at once so corny but, in an odd way, so perfect.

The set is vaguely Celtic in a swords and sorcerers kind of way, but it’s functional, hiding the band on a raised platform at the rear of the stage. The costumes are tighter, skimpier and sexier this time out; obviously, Victoria’s Secret is that she loves Celtic appliques. The firework explosions were pretty exciting, though the man in the seat in front of me probably didn’t enjoy getting a big slop of soda down his back when the first one scared me half to death.

The world will be a duller place when Michael Flatley eventually hangs up his dancing shoes (see story on opposite page), so catch the show while he’s still in it. It’s the kind of thing you’ll tell your grandchildren about, akin to seeing Mark McGwire hit a homer.

It bears repeating: I love Michael Flatley.

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