Category: Archive

Performance Review ‘Riverdance’ takes Broadway by storm

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Eileen Murphy

RIVERDANCE: On Broadway. Music and lyrics by Bill Whelan. With Pat Roddy, Eileen Martin, Maria Pages, Tsidii Le Loka, Brian Kennedy and the Moscow Folk Ballet Company. Directed by John McColgan. At the Gershwin Theater. Tickets, $25-$80. (212) 307-4100.

When "Riverdance" debuted five years ago, it forever changed the world’s perception of Irish dance. The explosive footwork, sexy, non-traditional costumes and juxtaposition of Irish and international dance styles captured the imagination of audiences around the world. Now the show that has spawned three touring companies, and whose name is synonymous with modern Irish dance, has landed on Broadway. But if you think you’ve seen it all before, be warned: this is not your father’s "Riverdance."

There is a freshness to the show that is apparent from the opening moments. Principal dancers Eileen Martin and Pat Roddy, who’ve had big shoes to fill — she, Jean Butler’s, he, Michael Flatley’s — burst onto the stage with an energy and confidence which projects to the balcony.

Martin, in particular, has made the part her own. Physically smaller than her predecessor, her style of dancing is subtly different — her strength lies in the speed of her footwork and her light-as-a-feather leaps in the air. Her soft shoe dancing is graceful and impressive, but where she really shines on the hard shoe clogging. The chemistry between Martin and Roddy is apparent — two handsome young people who convey the sexual attraction to one another that was sometimes lacking between earlier pairings.

Pat Roddy is a superb dancer whose performing style is as different from that of Flatley and Colin Dunne as chalk is to cheese. Where Flatley was given to making grand, flamboyant gestures, which Dunne self-consciously repeated, Roddy doesn’t waste a move. He uses his arms only for dramatic effect, and this allows the audience to concentrate on his astonishing footwork. He exudes an infectious, boyish enthusiasm during the "Trading Taps" number, and his challenge dance with the drummers is outstanding.

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Flamenco dancer Maria Páges is elegance personified as she undulates to the rhythms of a Spanish guitar during the "Fire Dance" number. After an extended solo spot, she is joined onstage by a cadre of male dancers, and the teasing, sexually charged choreography is one of the highlights of the first act.

New additions to the show include singers Brian Kennedy and Tsidii Le Loka, who each perform solo numbers. Kennedy’s vocal range is impressive, his songs, "At the End of the World" and "Endless Journey" (a duet with Le Loka) are terrific new compositions from the "Riverdance" music guru, Bill Whelan. Le Loka, who starred on Broadway in "The Lion King," leads a group of South African singers in two new numbers, one of which, literally stops the show.

The set still incorporates Robert Ballagh’s stylized Newgrange swirls, but the graphics projected on the rear screen are fewer in number, which increases their effect. Gone are the simple, black costumes that so astonished audiences way back in 1995; in their place are glitzy, sophisticated togs. The most dramatic costume change is on Roddy, who doffs the blue satin blouse in favor of a subtly metallic, green-black shirt and leather trousers. The poetic, New Agey narrative is provided by Irish actor Liam Neeson, whose beautifully modulated voice makes him a welcome addition to the cast.

Producers Moya Doherty and John McColgan took a gamble in bringing a show which has no real narrative storyline or breakout star to the theater world’s toughest proving ground. Judging from the enthusiastic reaction of the opening night audience, this is a gamble which should pay off handsomely.

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