You’ve probably heard that “Riverdance: The Show” is an incredibly popular celebration of Irish dancing and music, with top-notch performers dazzling crowds all around the world. You’ve probably heard that nearly all of the 3 million people, worldwide, who have seen the show have walked away from it amazed at just how entertaining it was.
The rumors are true. “Riverdance” is as good as they say it is, and then some.
“Riverdance: The Show” (that’s the official title — as opposed to “Riverdance: The Floor Wax”?) features a huge cast of singers, dancers and musicians, all of them at the top of their game. Michael Patrick Gallagher and Niamh Roddy are billed as the “principal dancers,” and they are quite good, but neither of them outshines the rest of the ensemble. “Riverdance” is truly a group effort, and every member of the group displays a stunning amount of talent.
The show is not all dancing, though that is what it has become famous for. There are also some songs and instrumental numbers interspersed with the dance numbers. Most of the show celebrates Ireland and Irish culture, though there are a few numbers whose influence is obviously foreign.
“Firedance,” for example, features soloist Rosa Manzano Jimenez in a dance that can best be described as Irish flamenco. Her costume is Latin American, and so are many of her dance steps, and the music is a fascinating combination between the two. Jimenez appears again later in “Heartbeat of the World,” and by the end of the production she has proven herself to be possessed of more charisma, character and emotion than the supposed co-star of the show, Niamh Roddy.
Roddy dances well, as does Gallagher her partner, but neither of them seem to have much personality. Perhaps the attention they must pay to their feet, which tap at a machine-gun pace, prevents them from displaying anything in their faces (except for Gallagher, who seems to have an open-mouthed smirk most of the time).
We will not criticize Gallagher too strongly, though, for his dancing skills are truly amazing. He leaps and taps around the stage flawlessly, demonstrating a talent nearly unparalleled in anything I’ve ever seen.
The show is probably supposed to tell a story; there is some mostly lame and disjointed narration read by John Kavanagh that pops up now and again. It’s mostly poetry on the order of “In dance and song we mourn our children; they carry us over the ocean,” whatever THAT means. It’s the only hokey, roll-your-eyes part of an otherwise very snappy, well-produced show.
Soloists Sara Clancy and Michael Londra sing magnificently, and the Russian Folk Ballet Company performs feats of acrobatic dance that will amaze you.
A highlight of the show is when three American street-type characters get into a tap-dancing showdown with Gallagher and two of his buddies. It’s sort of a good-natured Irish “West Side Story,” with both groups ably performing their particular styles of dance — and then imitating and mocking the other. (Watching the three tough-looking guys imitate the proper and dignified Irish dancing is hysterical, and it shows “Riverdance’s” sense of humor about itself.)
The best indication of “Riverdance’s” success is the fact that when it’s over, the audience is happy. The show is simply uplifting, joyous, fun, entertaining and powerful. People feel like dancing on the way to their cars. There is nothing questionable or in poor taste in the show. What you see and hear is a variety of remarkably talented performers, doing their thing flawlessly and accepting your applause and standing ovation at the end. The word “cultural” turns many people off, and that’s too bad, because while “Riverdance” is certainly cultural, it is also a show that can entertain even the most down-to-earth, non-theater-going person.