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New & Noteworthy: A ‘River’ runs through Broadway

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Eileen Murphy

So the producers of "Riverdance on Broadway" held an open rehearsal for the press this week, so that we could get a taste of the show and a close-up look at the performers. Though we figured that we’ve seen the show enough times that we could leap onto the stage, if needed, during a performance, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to watch it again. And, boy, were we surprised.

Actually, the first surprise came when we arrived at the Gershwin Theater on 51st Street, which already boasts the distinctive "Riverdance" marquee. We navigated the backstage labyrinth of corridors, ramps and sound equipment, and finally found ourselves in the theater. The new set is beautiful — very spare, very elegant — and the band setup is off to the side, as it was at Radio City.

While we were admiring the scenery, we could feel a dozen pairs of curious eyes on us. We also noticed that there didn’t seem to be any reporters around, or performers. Turning to someone who seemed to be in charge, we announced that we were looking for the press rehearsal.

"Press?" he said loudly. We could feel more eyes turn our way.

"Yes — um, the rehearsal," we stammered, with the sinking feeling that we were in the wrong place.

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"Anybody know where the press thing is?" he shouted (or was that just our imagination?). Finally, and important-looking bloke at the soundboard muttered, "Ford Center."

Yikes. The rehearsal was due to start at 11:30 a.m., and by our watch, it was 11:38. And the Ford Center was eight blocks away. Exit, stage left.

We arrived at 43rd Street breathless and windswept, in time to catch one of the show’s new numbers, which features "Lion King" alum Tsidii Le Loka and Brian Kennedy. Then the dancers performed the always fabulous "Trading Taps" number, which contrasts the styles of Irish and American-style taps. Flamenco sensation Maria Pages performed the "Fire Dance," in which she’s now accompanied by a half-dozen male dancers, and then it was over. Talk about leaving an audience wanting more.

Caught up with lead dancer Pat Roddy, who had some big shoes to fill in the role originated by Michael Flatley and then played by Colin Dunne. Roddy, who took over the part to rave reviews a couple of years ago, is excited at the chance to perform on Broadway.

"It’s brilliant, just brilliant," he said, laughing. "It’s always great to play in New York, but this time, we’re on Broadway . . . "

Roddy’s been a busy Riverdancer since we last saw him — he’s gone and gotten himself engaged, and he’s taken up golf.

"My fiancée’s name is Helen Dixon," he revealed. "She’s from Dundalk."

So, when’s the big event? we wondered.

Roddy laughed.

"We haven’t set a date yet," he said. "With my schedule, I haven’t been able to book a holiday."

And the golf?

"I’ve always played sports in addition to the dancing," he said. "Mostly, I played Gaelic, but that’s not such a good idea for me anymore," he said resignedly. "So I bought a set of golf clubs, and I play every chance I get. It’s great."

Tsidii Le Loka, who was nominated for a Tony award for her performance in "The Lion King," is looking forward to being part of the "Riverdance" company.

"This is an exceptional experience," she said, gazing at us with the most amazing pair of eyes we’ve ever seen. "The company is marvelous, and it’s thrilling to have a featured spot."

Belfast-born singer Brian Kennedy is a new addition to the show, and he seems pumped for the chance to perform on Broadway.

"It’s amazing for me, as a singer, to have someone like (‘Riverdance’ composer) Bill Whelan writing songs with me in mind," Kennedy said.

The singer, who first shot to fame when he toured with Van Morrison, and who has a successful solo career, is excited to be part of the show.

"It’ll be challenging to be myself onstage and at the same be a part of the phenomenon that is ‘Riverdance,’ " he mused. "It’s an amazing opportunity."

Female lead Eileen Martin is thrilled at the prospect of having a home base for the first time in years.

"I’ve loved the touring, because we’ve been, literally, almost everywhere in the world," she confided. "But I’m looking forward to being in my own flat for a change."

After years of living in hotels, Martin even looks forward to such mundane tasks as doing the grocery shopping and cooking.

"It’ll be nice to make my own meals," she said, smiling.

So, what’s it like performing with Pat Roddy? Do they get along?

"I’ve known Pat since we were this high," she laughed, indicating a height somewhere around her knees. "We used to compete against each other in Irish dancing when we were children."

And now you’re starring together on Broadway, we remarked.

"Yes, isn’t it amazing?" she said. "Broadway was always a dream of mine, but there was never any outlet for Irish dancing, so I put it out of my mind. But now, with Riverdance, it’s the most wonderful opportunity . . . "

As the press started to thin out, we asked if the dancers had the rest of the day off.

Martin giggled.

"We’ve got more rehearsal in about half an hour," she said. "I have just enough time to get some lunch." We said goodbye and started toward the door, just as a TV reporter and camera crew descended to ask Martin some questions. Like a real "Riverdance" trouper, she was gracious.

("Riverdance on Broadway" opens in previews this week. Opening night is Thursday, March 16.)

Saw Doctors ticket winners

Well, our mail carriers probably won’t be speaking to us for a while, since they’ve been forced to lug sacks full of entries to the office for our Saw Doctors competition. (Really, the postal service should cut us a deal on stamps.) Anyway, it was a hard decision, and the number of bribes, best wishes and out-and-out flattery made it even tougher than usual, but you know, someone’s gotta win, and someone’s gotta lose. So, drumroll, puh-leeze:

Grand prize winner (two VIP tickets to the Saw Doctors at Irving Plaza plus a copy of the band’s latest CD, "Songs from Sun Street"): Jeanmarie Lally, Brooklyn

First prize winner (two tickets to the Saw Doctors at Irving Plaza plus a copy of the band’s latest CD, "Songs from Sun Street"): MaryPat Sabato, Little Ferry, N.J.

Runners-up (each receives a copy of the CD): Yvonne Brogan, Bronx; Bridget Stratton, Hamden, Conn., and Tom Duggan, Milford, Conn.

Thanks to everyone for entering, and, trust us, we’ll wear that diamond brooch in good health. (Oh, only kidding. Actually, it looks like cubic zirconia.)

Let your fingers do the walkin¹ on St. Patrick¹s Day

Don¹t know about the rest of you, but we¹re the absolute worst when it comes to sending holiday cards. It¹s not that we don¹t buy them — really, we¹ve got enough boxes of whimsical greetings to send one to every man, woman and child in the western hemisphere. And we spend lots of time writing and addressing the cards. Unfortunately, we never get around to actually mailing the cards –usually because we¹re too lazy to go to the post office to buy stamps. (But it¹s the thought that counts, right?) Why, oh why , we often wonder, can¹t someone come up with a way for us to fulfill our holiday obligations without us having to move a muscle?

Happily, a company named Anshe Ltd. has come up with the answer to this problem, and it¹s just in time for St. Patrick¹s Day. Just log on to their website, www.patricksdaycards.com, enter the necessary info, and they¹ll mail out cool and kitschy St. Patrick¹s Day cards to your family and freinds in Ireland. They have a range of traditional and lighthearted greetings (including the pictured ³dancing finger² puppet cards, which have given us hours of fun here in the office). Order early to ensure delivery by March 17. A single card costs $2.99. There¹s a 5-pack avaulable for $11. 25, and, for those of you with lots of friends, a money-saving 10-pack for $15.00. All prices include postage, of course,so really, there¹s no need to get out of your jammies.

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