Why Riverdance on Broadway was Nifty-Keen

My aunt Livia wanted to go see Riverdance for her birthday, so we went to a Sunday matinee, following a lovely lunch at Uncle Nick's Greek restaurant.

Zowie.

Marina and I saw Lord of the Dance a couple of years ago. LotD was "spun off" from Riverdance after Michael Flatley -- or, as I call him, The Ego That Dances Like a Man -- parted ways with RD and did his own thing. While Flatley is definitely a superior dancer to anyone left in RD, his former mates put on a much better show. LotD was an overblown, overproduced, garish ego-fest whose main function was to make sure you never went too long without a glimpse at Flatley's bare chest.

RD on Broadway, however, was a very good show. It wasn't flawless -- pretty much anytime singing was involved, it was a bad thing, especially the overearnest, overamplified Brian Kennedy (think Michael Bolton with a brogue) -- but the good parts were most excellent.

Act I focused on the Irish folk. Interpsersed with narration by Liam Neeson, the RD folk did a bunch of phenomenal dances intermixed with some vocal and instrumental bits to allow the dancers to a) catch their breath and/or b) change outfits. The vocal bits were fairly tiresome, but one of the high points was the musical interlude "Slip into Spring: The Harvest," which featured a stellar fiddle solo.

In general, the music was magnificent -- but I would say that, as it was heavily laced with percussion. One guy was amidst a sea of stuff (congas, various scratchy things, drums, cymbals, two sets of chimes, etc.), there was an amazing bodhran player, and a drummer. The fiddle player (a woman named Athena Tergis) got several solos, including getting to take center stage during "Slip Into Spring." The woman was a bundle of energy, dashing about the stage as she played. Later on, she and Robbie Harris, the bodhran player, did a song called "Homecoming." Besides the excellent fiddle, Harris proceeded to do things with a bodhran that I didn't know you could do -- and which most drummers can't do with a full kit.

The dancers were enthusiastic and fun to watch, although the large stage of the Gershwin Theatre didn't always suit the lead dancers, Pat Roddy and Eileen Martin. One thing Flatley always could do was dominate the stage when he solos, but neither Roddy nor Martin are able to quite fill a stage the same way, so they seemed lost when they had a solo. Still, they were both excellent, and when he gets going, Roddy's feet move faster than anything I've seen this side of Savion Glover....

Act II brought in the other folks. An entire subsection called "Harbour of the New World" showcased a variety of guests. One was the Amanzi Singers from South Africa, led on this day by Margaret Motsage. While they were most excellent, they also sadly made the Riverdance Singers look even worse (especially when they duetted). The Moscow Folk Ballet Company did "The Russian Dervish," which mostly meant that the three men spun, tossed, twirled, and threw the three women around in remarkably complex manners. And Yolanda Gonzalez Sobrado did a wonderful flamenco dance.

But the absolute high point was "Trading Taps." Three black tap dancers -- Walter "Sundance" Freeman from Oakland, Channing Cook Holmes from Los Angeles, and Karen Callaway Williams (the first female tap artist to tour with RD) -- did a "tap-off" with Roddy and two other RD tappers, with Tergis doing fiddle accompaniment for the RD folk and Kenneth Edge playing a bluesy alto saxophone for the Americans. Especially entertaining was when the two sides impersonated each other, the Americans exaggerating the stylized Irish forms, and the RD folks attempting the looser style of American tap dancing (and looking like most white folks do when they try to look like they have soul). The whole thing felt like a playful West Side Story riff, and it was tremendous fun. Especially fascinating -- and this was the theme of the show in any case -- was that from the ankles down, it was basically the same thing. Different body language, but the same kind of dancing at heart.

This show also had the best curtain calls ever -- each group came out and did a quick performing sequence, rather than "simply" taking a bow. (Of course, this also meant being subjected to Brian Kennedy singing again, but you can't have everything.) Then they closed with all the dancers dancing together to a traditional Irish tune. Seeing all those disparate styles -- American tap, Russian folk dance, flamenco, Irish -- working in such perfect unison was heartening as all heck.

I highly recommend this show to anyone who's in the NYC area in the near future....

[First posted on sff.people.krad at SFF.net on 24 July 2000.]

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