There are three key reasons to buy a pair of tickets:
1. The Dancing. The disciplined yet exuberant dance is punctuated by moving, primitive music.
2. The Room. Settle yourself into one of the six thousand peach-velvet seats in this iconic Art Deco space, and you are already happy.
3. The Crowd. It was like a MAGA rally but celebrating joyful dance instead. Enthusiasm and shout-outs prevail.
As more spectacle than story, more pageant than play, Riverdance belongs on this grand stage framed by a huge proscenium arch that measures 60 feet high and 100 feet wide. When the Irish dancers arrayed in a shoulder-to-shoulder line offer a high kick, you hear Rockettes murmur. In a theatrical era where projected video and odd effects are much in evidence, the “effects” in this production are quite other; big and bold to be sure, though sometimes quite opaque, even distracting. Example: why is that enormous boulder charging at the audience?
The story line is thin, and perhaps a bit pretentious in its sweeping retelling of grand themes of river cultures, sun and moon, soul and spirit. Still, the mythic sounds and authentic instruments offer the song of universality in the human experience.
The theme of river cultures driven to migration invites a sampling of percussive dance. While Irish step dancing has been the core of Riverdance for 25 years, there are clever visits here to related percussive dance from other cultures — Flamenco, Russian folk, and notes of American jigging and square dance reels.
It is rare in my theatergoing experience to pine for something specific during the Act One — only to have it delivered with winning playfulness in Act Two. Riverdance does that. The seemingly effortless flights of dancing supported by lively mythic sounds, in the first act, is gorgeous. Still, as I watched the Irish dancing, I kept seeing Bill Robinson, and Gregory Hines, and Gene Kelly.
Act Two explained it all to me. Presumably an homage to the challenge dance at the 1997 Grammys between Colin Dunn, then the star of Riverdance - The Musical and Savion Glover, then the choreographer and star of Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk, Act Two opens not on a Celtic isle but in Brooklyn. The challenge dance here between the immigrant Irish lads and the local African American kids is enormous fun. It is a teaching moment as well, as it ties the roots of step dancing and tap dancing together wordlessly.
At root, Riverdance is a rather old-fashioned variety show, although no one speaks and there are no animal acts, and there is no schtick. The unique, if thunderous, dancing is relieved by interludes of music, sometimes with a soloist and often with an ensemble of musicians. There is a vigor and vitality in this company — dancers, singers, and musicians. It is a feel-good evening.
(Photo by Jack Hartin)