The Irish dance into town

    Since when can something “”cultured”” be so much fun and entertaining? All it takes are the taps and footsteps of dancers in “”Riverdance: the Show”” to be mesmerized by a lively festival of Celtic music and “”Riverdance”” performers amaze audiences with the near-impossible speed of their footwork.

    Courtesy of Broadway/SD

    Although “”Riverdance”” tries to convey a story of Irish folklore and the immigration from Ireland to America, the show doesn’t have much of a chorographical order and story line. But who cares? “”Riverdance”” isn’t as much about a complex story as it is a celebration of dance. Attempts to create a story, such as John Kavanagh’s narration, seem to draw away from the true essence of the performance: dance and song.

    Male lead Michael Patrick Gallagher’s lightning speed and graceful footwork is uttlerly amazing. His performance is superb, but his on-stage interaction with female lead Tara Barry is sorely lacking. Although the leads prove that they are experts at dance, they have little chemistry together.

    The Irish dance troupe of about 30, support the leads is not a group of second-rate performers. Their dance steps are in near-perfect unison and bring about an amazing, rapid choreography that would put just about any chorus line to shame. “”Riverdance”” is a group effort, and it shows with strong performances from the entire troupe that elevate the show from being just a mere highlight of the leads.

    Supporting the dancers is the festive “”Riverdance”” orchestra, with an eclectic mix of instruments that range from fiddles to uilleann pipes to accordions. Unlike many Broadway shows, the orchestra plays a major role and actually performs on stage, bringing together both music and dance under a fun atmosphere.

    Although widely synonymous with Irish dance, “”Riverdance”” also showcases a rich mix of other forms of dance, including flamenco, Russian folk ballet and African-American tap. Each of the other forms of dancing merges with the theme of “”Riverdance,”” creating a wide showcase of dances without losing the underlying element of Celtic music and dance.

    The Irish dance troupe may be the soul of the production, but it is the three African-American tappers who steal the audiences’ hearts. “”Trading taps”” is a scene in which Irish dance meets equally fast jazz tap and the two forms get a chance to duel each other. Not one to let the Irish dance troupe steal the spotlight, African-American tappers Aaron Tolson, Ronald Bastine and Jason Bernard infuse hip, modern tap rather than straightforward Celtic tap. It’s a fun, lively scene that manages to not only make fun of “”Riverdance,”” but also gets the audiences into a charged atmosphere.

    The biggest flaw of the performance was something that the performers could not control: the minuet size of the Civic Theater. With a show grand in size and performance, the dancers sometimes seemed preoccupied with not bumping into each other. This was particularly evident during the final scene when the Irish dance troupe looked like a can stuffed with sardines.

    Minus a few technical mishaps during opening night, “”Riverdance”” shows why it is still popular after all these years. The cast’s enthusiasm shows that they are really having fun while performing furious yet tiring dance moves.

    “”Riverdance”” is one of the few shows around that manages to capture everyone’s heart. From its beautiful Celtic music to its breakneck speed and accuracy of dancing, it provides joy for experienced showgoers and first-time viewers alike.

    “”Riverdance: the Show”” is in San Diego in a limited engagement; tickets are selling faster than the dancers’ legs can move. For ticket information, contact (619) 570-1100 or go to http://www.broadwaysd.com.

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