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“RIVERDANCE” ROARS BACK INTO RALEIGH FOR A FIERY FAREWELL ENGAGEMENT | Review by Robert W. McDowell

Sumptuously produced by Moya Doherty for Abhann Productions and effervescently staged by director John McColgan, the current Broadway Series South presentation of RIVERDANCE is an invigorating mash-up of chapters of Irish myth and history, retold mainly in voiceover introducing segments of traditional Irish song and dance — particularly stepdancing — and leavened with memorable vignettes from the Irish-American immigrant experience. Some fiery Spanish flamenco dances and exuberant Russian folk ballet are also thrown in to make this show a true melting-pot musical, with a lively 1997 Grammy Award®-winning score by composer Bill Whelan.

RIVERDANCE’S Boyne Company, which will complete its extended 2008-10 farewell tour of North America on June 6th in Vienna, VA, contains considerable star-power. Lead dancers Alana Mallon and Padraic Moyles twinkled the brightest during Tuesday’s opening-night performance, and their fancy footwork set a high standard for the Riverdance Irish Dance Troupe.

Moyles also proved his versatility in the show-stopping “Trading Taps” segment in which he and fellow Irish stepdancers Kevin Horton and Craig Ashurst traded licks with African-American tap-dancers Kelly Isaac and Jason E. Bernard. Indeed, sparks flew in the mano-a-mano showdown between Isaac and Moyles.

Other highlights include the splendid singing of soloist Laura Yanez (on “The Heart’s Cry, “Shivna,” and “Oscail an Doras (Open the Door”) and ringing notes of African-American baritone soloist Michael Samuels, whose robust rendition of “Heal Their Hearts” rattled the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium rafters and tugged at the heartstrings with its heartfelt plea to a Higher Power to bridge the continuing gaps of racial division: “Heal their hearts / Feed their Souls / Their lives can be golden if your love enfolds.” Samuels’ singing on “Freedom” is no less stirring: “Lord, what of our children? / Will they always depend on you? / Lord, why are they scattered and torn / And their young hearts in chains / How they hunger for liberty / Feel their hatred of poverty / Let their spirit rise, soaring free / Lord let it come / Our day will come.”

Riverdance Flamenco Soloist Rocio Montoya raised the temperature in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium 10 degrees with sizzling versions of “Firedance” (in a chic flowing red gown) and “Andalucia” (in an equally stylish black gown). The Moscow Folk Ballet Company (Sergey Bukreev and Evgeniya Starodubova, lead dancers) also earned hearty applause with vivacious versions of “Shivna” and “The Russian Dervish.”

Other high points of the show included Irish bagpiper Declan Masterson‘s haunting rendition of the lament “Caoineadh Chú Chulainn,” fiddler Pat Mangan and Bodhrán player Mark Alfred‘s dynamic duets in the “Slip into Spring — The Harvest” and ” Slow Air/Tunes” segments of the show, and the red-hot saxophone riffs of Dan Dorrance enlivened many tune.

Incendiary as ever, the Riverdance Irish Dance troupe brought the thunder and lightning (in the form of strobe lights) during “Thunderstorm”; and tripped the light fantastic in “Reel Around the Sun,” “The Countess Cathleen,” “Riverdance,” “Heartland,” and a true grand grand “Finale,” which earned the Boyne Company cheers and an extended standing ovation, which last at least five minutes. Don’t miss your dance to say goodbye to the international Irish dance sensation.

Broadway Series South presents RIVERDANCE: FAREWELL ENGAGEMENT at 8 p.m. May 6-7, 2 and 8 p.m. May 8, and 2 and 7 p.m. May 9 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

by Robert W. McDowell

Robert McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review of Raleigh, NC. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

E-mail RobertM748[at]aol.com to start your FREE subscription to this weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter.

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