Tapping down with might and exhilaration this week in Los Angeles, Riverdance endures some opening night audio pops and stammers.
The curtains open to a quick stint of static crackles over the PA -- easily forgiven. But immediately following, a lone piper steps out into the spotlight only to blow and trill his fingers in silence. It must have been a long minute for the piper.
Fortunately, a clatter of high stepping, straight-backed dancers take to the stage, legs like marionettes in sharp swift time. They are absolutely commanding and invigorating.
Next, a single female soloist steps out uncertain as her audio amplification wavers, she's joined by a ring of singers who have no amplification at all. Each of their voices as light as the small candle flame they hold in their hands. Though the sound system eventually improves, the act is doomed. And later when the same reprises, again it fails to command, though the audio techs have solved the problem on their end.
A small group of female Irish dancers are joined by an equal numbered male Moscow folk dancing troupe. The result is mesmerizing. They spin with greater speed than astronauts in training, I can't believe they kept their steady. Magnificent!
A solo Irish bagpiper takes the stage, he and his pipe. The drone calls with awe, as he squeezes and bends tones in ways I didn't know were possible from his instrument. I enjoyed his reign, but it could have been improved with meatier passages, hookable melodies.
A slow motion blaze of fire and smoke swank across the video screen. In front of that, a single flamenco dancer. Her stance, her entrance, her arms, hands, fingers, all grand, proud, compelling. But, from there the momentum wanes, never exceeds the entrance.
The dancers rest as the band (grand drums, keyboards, soprano sax, pipe, and violin) explode into a majestic instrumental. The sax player (Robert Geraghty) simply rips the place apart. His melody, expression, and command ring with decisive rule. I am in awe. The others are good, but he is magnificent, and later the drummer (Stephen Holloway) also with his fierce meter pounds out in great confidence and resonance. He's also powerful.
Vocalists sing a beautiful song that merges the flavor of Enya with that of Disney's "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" - it's perfectly sung and lovely to listen to.
Dancers come in spin, tap, then leave the stage silent, empty. A large figure steps down into the stage and fills it simply with his presence. Richard McCowen is like a magnet for our attention, with a gentle graduation of intensity his huge voice demands every ounce of electricity the sound system has to offer. He's thunderous and deservedly climaxes to strong applause.
Soon after two American tap dancers shuffle a much swankier version of dance. They're joined/challenged by the Irish leads in a friendly sparring tap. Everybody wins.
Overall, it's a nice night of dance and grand music, and though there are a few underwhelming acts, they are offset by squarely commanding tap and song. Though best used when lit by fire or moving water, the video screen images border on cheesy. With such a simple set, I'd expect much better visuals on that screen. That said, the minimalism, art design, and lighting of the rest of the set are quite tasteful. Lastly, periodically, a seemingly recorded big announcer voice narrates poetry. It adds little if anything to the show. In fact, I felt no obligation to listen to the words. If the creators/directors feel that this element is so essential, I suggest putting a live person on stage to speak it. Lastly, as an intro to one of the pieces a midi light dance beams down in sharp strobe -- it's beautiful but feels truncated. I would have encouraged the integration of that light dance with the River dance.
Again, Kudos to the Sax player, Male Vocal Solo (and even the duet singers), and Moscow Troupe -- you all gave me chills.
This Ross Anthony review is based on the Feb 7th, 2006 performance at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles.
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