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As Long as We Remember...

March 12, 2009

REVIEW Riverdance" Has It All!

Roy Meachum

While being amazed in Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre Tuesday night, the thought occurred: In my 40-plus years reviewing I've never seen a smoother musical show. Put simply: "Riverdance" has it all!


That feeling is not mine alone. While there may be a few exceptions, about three million people agree – and in nearly 40 countries. And the demand remains quite strong among both those who have seen it and those who didn't get around to it. That's why "Riverdance" has three companies that tour the world; it is still popular in Ireland, the land that begot it.


The day has long past when the evening consisted principally of step dancing that reached here as the Irish jig, although the American version permits more arm movement. Our domestic sample simply cannot approach the flexibility, discipline and the form on the Hippodrome stage. Moreover, nothing I've seen on our shores begins to approach the glee and good times that flooded the Hippodrome stage.


Stepping up from the first concept, "Riverdance" broadened to encompass the athletic gyrations of the Moscow Folk Ballet Company, presenting some variation on the familiar moves that we have come to know as typically Russian. Every company, it seems, now has a flamenco singer; she's Rocio Montoya who treats the Baltimore audience to a highly unlikely flamenco smile. I've never before seen someone dressed like her project anything but anger and haughty pride.


In honor of the tour's ticket buyers, the Irish production offers a tribute to African Americans. Baritone Michael Samuels and tappers Jason E. Bernard and Kelly Isaac are black. Mr. Samuels has a near-impossible voice that really resonates in the lower tones. I sat there feeling stupid because I had never heard Michael Samuels' name. I won't forget it now.


The Hippodrome show displays immense humor, but Mr. Bernard and Mr. Isaac bring an abundance of their own. That's characteristic of their chosen profession. Look at Bill Robinson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Gregory Hines. The showbiz giants and their successors included a just-between-you-and-me pose, and Mr. Bernard and Mr. Isaac top that tradition when they dance with and against "Riverdance" leading men. They send the people out-front into instant and loud laughter. Me, too!


The company's Irish troupe assembles the most beautiful girls and mobile men. Speaking of the ladies, I missed redheads; the color generally associated with their land. Not all the performing blondes were born that way, but this troupe could be a sterling example of how the Irish tend to break the cliché. Their unquestioned talent and brilliant choreography overwhelm such caviling.


Fiddler Patrick Mangan stands out in front of the Riverdance Band, as he stands out capturing and communicated his island nation's soul and brilliance and feistiness. He taught me how the Southern redneck music started. The players, in all, wield a slew of Irish exotic instruments that make the "right" sound. Dan Dorrance sticks to the soprano saxophone which I rarely have seen since leaving New Orleans.


The prima ballerina and the danseur noble, to use terms from ballet, are magnificent. Marty Dowds and Padriac Moyles frequently seem subdued by the choreography: I understand, from their individual flashes of brilliance. Most of the evening, the basic problem may be to tame their dancing so it doesn't out run, out jump and out twirl everybody else on stage. Let it be noted, however, some of the young people in the corps obviously are waiting their turn.


This showbiz perfection pulls out after Sunday. It plays Chicago for St. Paddy's Day. There's not much time to grab the tickets you forgot to buy. Trust me.


"Riverdance" is an experience you absolutely do not want to miss.

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