“Riverdance” Can Get Your Irish Up

Undoubtedly, the year’s greatest assembly of stage talent and best legs converge at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre this St. Patrick’s Day week.

“Riverdance,” the 18-year-old Irish dancing global phenomenon, says goodbye to Chicago with performances through March 18. The final U.S. tour of the original company closes June 17.

To all observers, the talent of this corps’ dancers, musicians and vocalists cannot be questioned. Impeccable choreography, inspired musicianship and spot-on vocals combine to trace Irish immigration to America; the show cannot be more professionally performed.

This makes “Riverdance” the perfect event for:

  • Irish dance enthusiasts
  • All dance aficionados
  • “Riverdance” lovers
  • People who always wanted to see this company but never did
  • The orthodox Irish

For everyone else? Not so much.

To the unsuspecting patron, “Riverdance” is haunting, regimented, repetitive and cold. The robotic-while-sensational movements of the dance troupe through 10 different numbers leaves a singular indelible memory the morning after—one number is pretty much the same as another, just with different costumes and lights.

So, too, are the pair of Flamenco solos dropped in the middle of each of the two acts. They are exquisitely performed by Marita Martinez-Rey—red dress in act one, black dress in act two.

Principal Irish Dancers (at the March 13 performance) Alana Mallon and Padriac Moyles possess undoubtedly hard-earned talent. Yet the “Riverdance” platform gives the male such a spotlight it’s easy to see how the company’s original lead, Michael Flatley, acquired his egomaniacal reputation.

In one observer’s eyes, the showstopping highlight is not the Rockette-like Irish dance line, but the second act number, “Trading Taps,” that juxtaposes Irish dance with urban street tap, a la Ben Vereen. Kudos to tapper DeWitt Fleming, Jr.

Even the instrumental and vocal interludes, necessary to give the athletes opportunity to rest between dance numbers, possesses an eerie sameness. Just how much Uilleann Pipe music might one what to hear? How much tin whistle?

Drummer/percussionist Mark Alfred, on the other hand, is a show in himself. He is every bit the athlete as the dancers with whom he shares the stage.

All this said, “Riverdance” has been touring America, receiving standing ovations from audiences (including the one in Chicago March 13) since 1996. It’s an athletic, professional show that its fans have every right to embrace.

It’s just one person’s opinion that it’d be more enjoyable as a 30-minute attraction at EPCOT.

“Riverdance” at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, runs through March 18. Tickets are $30 – $85 and available at Broadway in Chicago box offices, online at www.BroadwayinChicago.com or by calling Ticketmaster at (800) 775-2000.