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‘How the Irish Saved the Irish Rep Theatre’

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

The Irish Repertory Theatre’s annual benefit, scheduled for Monday evening, June 7, at Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre, uses as its jumping place Thomas Cahill’s best-selling book "How the Irish Saved Civilization," and, in fact, the volume’s tongue-in-cheek title will serve as the name of the evening.

The event, directed by the organization’s artistic director, Charlotte Moore, will be co-hosted by actress Angela Lansbury and actor Kevin Spacey, with participation by members of the Irish Rep’s company of frequently utilized players, plus a number of guest artists recruited for the occasion.

Among the participants will be author Cahill, whose latest book, "The Gift of the Jews," appears to be following "How the Irish Saved Civilization" onto the heights of the publishing industry’s sales charts.

The performance, which will start at 7 p.m., will be broken down into a number of categories, based loosely on aspects of Cahill’s book.

For example, "How the Irish Saved the Fiddle" will introduce the celebrated Irish-American musician, Eileen Ivers, while "How the Irish Saved the Dance" will be the cue for a number by members of the "Riverdance" troupe, including Kevin McCormack, Padraic Moyles and Van (The Man) Porter, and another by the noted Irish dancer Donny Golden.

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A segment entitled "How the Irish Saved the Memoir" will serve as an opportunity for author Frank McCourt to read a bit of his forthcoming follow-up volume to his vastly successful "Angela’s Ashes." The new book, " ‘Tis," takes its title from the expression with which McCourt ended the earlier memoir.

"How the Irish Saved the Theater" will bring on Tate Donovan, currently appearing on Broadway in David Hare’s play "Amy’s View," in support of Dame Judi Dench. The theater segment will also feature a performance fragment involving playwright Oscar Wilde and Lady Bracknell, one of the enduring joys of his immortal comedy, "The Importance of Being Earnest."

For the unit entitled "How the Irish Saved Poetry," Irish Rep regular Pauline Flanagan will perform selections from the rich heritage of William Butler Yeats, while "How the Irish Saved the Novel" will usher on readings from James Joyce’s "Ulysses."

Among the mysteries promised by the Rep is a performance of a song "The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago." This number, which actually existed as a musical hall favorite some decades past, will, of course, headline a unit called "How the Irish Built the Pyramids.":

Among the evening’s other musical performers will be The Prodigals, a New York Irish band, Rep musical director Rusty Magee, the actor Donovan, proficient on the fiddle.

Among other familiar names associated with past Irish Repertory Theatre ventures taking part in the benefit evening include Terry Donnelly, Marian Tomas Griffin, Paul McGrane, Brian F. O’Byrne, Ciaran Sheehan, Bob Green, Eric Stoltz, Kitty Sullivan and the theater’s producing director, Ciaran O’Reilly.

For many of them, the evening will be a reunion of members of the cast of the Rep’s long-running hit "The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way," a show for which the text was provided by memoirist McCourt.

"The Irish . . . and How They Got That Way," which ran over a year in New York and played a six-week engagement in Boston, is still alive and well at Chicago’s Mercury Theatre, with a company gathered from the Windy City’s large pool of professional performers, directed by Charlotte Moore.

The performance will be followed by what the Rep’s founders refer to as a gala supper at Sardi’s Restaurant, directly across West 44th Street from the Broadhurst Theatre. For information on tickets and reservations, the number is (212) 727-2737.

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