Riverdance-The 20th Anniversary World Tour makes its return to Philadelphia June 14-19, 2016 at the Academy of Music. Boasting new costumes, lighting and projections, the production promises to bring audience members on a memorable journey through Irish music, song and, of course, dance. Tuesday night’s performance, presented by Broadway Philadelphia, did not disappoint.
The show opens with a female vocalist who sets the tone with her ethereal soprano voice. This segues into a hard- shoe ensemble dance featuring principal dancer, James Greenan. From the start, Greenan stands out amongst the cast with both his skill and stage presence. His approach to the choreography ranges from assertive confidence to calm composure. He noticeably looks about the theatre, taking in the audience, and seeming to invite us to be a part of the experience.
Greenan and fellow principal dancer, Maggie Darlington, are backed up by a strong, gifted, company of artists. It is apparent why most of the ensemble members hold international titles. Their precision while dancing in both hard and soft shoe seems effortless. I especially enjoyed Riverdance at the end of Act One and preferred seeing the dancers smiling over the more stoic facial expressions seen earlier in the act.
The music, by renowned composer Bill Whelan, sets the pace of the show. The audience clapped along to the more rousing numbers and then settled back in during the slower, almost haunting, ballads. A stand out was Musical Director, Pat Mangan, playing the fiddle with flair and finesse. Another musical highpoint was Riverdance Irish piper, Matt Bashford, playing Caoineadh Chú Chulainn (Lament.)
Songs and dances transition seamlessly with an interesting, multicultural variety. Riverdance-The 20th Anniversary World continues the tradition of fusing Irish and international dance. This includes two Flamenco solos by the powerful Marita Martinez-Rey, as well as, a contemporary lyrical duet. New in this production is Anna Livia, an a capella hard-shoe number featuring the female members of the dance troupe.
However, I found the highlight of the show to be Trading Taps in Act II. In this piece, three male Irish dancers are challenged to a dance battle by two American tappers. Greenan is featured again and holds his own against tappers Michael Everett and Ty Knowlin. Alternating their solos, Everett and Knowlin display incredible showmanship and skill. Clarity of sound and precision is not compromised by the speed with which these dancers’ feet move. I believe this number gives the show an updated feel and truly demonstrates the caliber of talent that is on the stage.
This piece is followed by the Russian Folk Dance Troupe performing Macedonian Morning/The Russian Dervish. Three couples performing high energy partnering tricks and acrobatics is a nice transition from Trading Taps.
The costumes, by Joan Bergin, are understated and elegant. Bergin’s designs for principal dancer Maggie Darlington’s costumes uses stunning color and detail to the bodice. Bergin dresses the cast in black and silver for the finale which is visually quite striking.
Whether you are seeing Riverdance for the first time or are a returning audience member, this production is sure to leaving you with a memorable experience.