photographer, writer and creator

Riverdance’s 25th Anniversary | Cadillac Theatre, February 4th, 2020

4 out of 4 stars
(Originally Chicago Stage Standard)

Broadway In Chicago presents Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show at Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph) for a limited one-week engagement through February 9, 2020. Riverdance 25th Anniversary is a powerful and stirring reinvention of this beloved favorite, celebrated over the world for its Grammy Award-winning score and the thrilling energy and passion of its Irish and international dance.

Indulge me for a moment and let’s talk scale. Riverdance began its journey as the interval act in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The electrifying and innovative seven-minute dance piece was then developed into a full-length stage show by Producer Moya Doherty, Composer Bill Whelan and Director John McColgan. With its fusion of Irish and International music and dance, the show broke all box office records during its world première run in Dublin in early 1995. The show transferred to London with rave reviews then hopped the pond over to New York in March 1996, where 8 sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall heralded the start of two decades of touring by Riverdance companies throughout North America. With great success around the globe and today, Doherty, Whelan and McColgan are back with a rerecorded soundtrack and re-imagine innovative show.

In 1996, I distinctly remember screaming for my sister to teach me how to rewind VHS. I was five years old and I had found recorded program of Irish dancing my mom recorded from PBS with some guy named Flately. It was Riverdance… and I was hooked.  The question that remained floating around in my head as I approached writing this review was: what makes this a legacy show? I think it’s about finding the fine-tuned balance between the beginning and current. Lead designer Peter Canning really exceeded in this concept by taking all the pieces of what the production is and elevating these elements to create an entirely new level of performance. The familiar set design with the tiered stage and pillared lighting get a face lift with texture and extended scrims that create this effect of standing along a shoreline on the crags, in the middle of a forest, or even among an ancient stone structure.

The fog rolls in and the first notes played on the Irish whistle makes your heart swell. It is a call. Something ancestral and sacred awaits. Incredibly talented musicians will have you tapping your toes! Emma Frampton on the saxophone is phenomenal! The music incorporates the tin whistle, the uilleann pipes, fiddle, saxophone, bodhrán and about a million other instruments. Michael O’Gorman in the sound design brilliantly balances the scheme for appropriate echoes, pauses, and audio balance that helps provide the best experience of this production. Between segments of dance and music, the evening has a well-adjusted balance for the audience to enjoy. There are also plenty ethereal songs that will give you goosebumps. The percussionist clear cased corner allows full visual to the magic behind the booming sounds outside of the hard shoe leg work, yet you will be mesmerized by these incredible dancers and their talents.

As you flip through the playbill you see that everyone from leads to troupe have a diverse and expansive background in dance. Principle dancer Maggie Darlington won four North American Championships, two All-Ireland Championships and in 2007 won the World Irish Dancing Championships. In 2010 Maggie performed the lead role in Busch Gardens’ production Celtic Fyre and originated the lead female role in Battle of the Dance. Dancing opposite was Jason O’Neill, who has also had great success in the world of Irish Dancing with becoming a lead dancer not only in Riverdance, but also in Heartbeat of Home and with Prodijig’s Footstorm. Together Darlington and O’Neill really complimented each other’s strengths through their movements and the choreography.  Attention to detail is key with how much spinning the couple does and the high kicks throughout the show. It is massively impressive how Darlington’s air of confidence exudes over the audience and O’Neill’s commanding intricate fast paced footwork is other-worldly!

The costuming design by Joan Bergin added an extra form of awe with the beautiful rich toned velvets and shiny metallic sheens that seem to harken a staunch heritage and tradition, while also including some fun nuances with embroidery and cuts to some outfits. Each segment of the performance flowed together and the fabrics of these costumes help enhance the magic of these dancers gliding across the stage. Selective spot lights and side lighting help lift up the dimensions and movement of the dancers in their costuming and was brilliantly executed by the lighting designer Andrew Voller.  It allows them to come to the stage’s edge and really connect with the audience while not hindering the upstage projection screen. The video by Cosmo AV is a wonderful transportation across the waters to the Isle of Éire and back over. The homage to the past makes this 25th anniversary soar. The archival footage from past performances bookend the show and really honors the journey Riverdance has taken.

The variety within this show is breathtaking and an honor to the global community. From flamenco in the streets of Barcelona to tap on the cobbled streets of New York City, there is a celebration of how movement is one of the most archaic and beautiful forms of communication. It is joy made physical. Lamont Brown (tapper) and Tyler Knowlin (tapper) were incredible! Brown and Knowlin not only play up their strengths with insanely fast paced tapping, but also with their demeanor in playing up the audience and truly enjoying the performance they are giving. That is one of the best parts about seeing a show like this – the relaxed atmosphere where the talent speaks for itself and the performers are just having a blast.

Twenty-five years on, there is no doubt the heart of Riverdance thrives! The mystical storytelling enthralls audiences of all ages. The balance between musical moments and stepping really highlights what makes this show so magical. The vignettes filled with love, friendship, melancholy and intensity all speak to innate human nature. Paired with an amazing lighting scheme and talented dancers, one cannot help clapping along and having a good craic. It reminds us all of what connects us: dance, music and story. Riverdance’s 25th Anniversary is a treasure that celebrates the beat in all our hearts.

For more information, visit: www.riverdance.com.

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