The international Irish dance phenomenon is back by popular demand in Riverdance – The 20th Anniversary World Tour.Such a diversity of absolute talent has not been seen on stage as it was with Riverdance 20 Years. Every step was done with precision, every instrument played with expertise, every musical note sang with hypnotic reverence. This was a show, within a show, within a show with an Irish traditional theme that celebrated the joys and hardships of life through dance and song. I still remember watching Michael Flatley and Riverdance for the first time on TV and loving it. Now, seeing the touring group of Riverdance live at the magnificent Broward Center for Performing Arts, it was so much greater than anything I could’ve anticipated. There might not of been Michael Flatley himself, but his choreography was kept on-point and Riverdance 20 Years showcased some individual talents that even eclipsed the original cast.
The male lead dancer was taken on by Sydney, Australian native Will Bryant. Grinning ear-to-ear with a playful cockiness, the crowd erupted every time Bryant took the stage. He could turn his feet ninety degrees in both directions with so much speed that Flash Gordon himself would blush. Bryant shined in his confidence and was challenging every person, every instrument and every beat to try to compete.
The female lead dancer was the multi-Irish Dancing Champion Maggie Darlington. She was the perfect balance of attitude and grace. Maggie seemed to lift and float on stage like a beautiful water beetle skirting the water. Her synchronization with Will and the entire troupe was flawless. This was best displayed with Riverdance’s finale as the entire cast lined up and stomped together like a driving freight train until they break off into pairs like a massive ballroom. The sights and the sounds were tremendous to say the least and the entire Performance Arts Center was clapping, yelling and whistling with a fevered applause.
The only time the audience wasn’t hooting and hollering was when they were in awe with silence as they heard the Riverdance singers harmonize and hit vocal notes with unwavering pitch and clarity. Their female soloist was so angelic that you got swept away by her voice.
Equally impressive was their musicians. Using traditional instruments like the Bodhrán, the Low Whistle, the fiddle and the Uilleann Pipes you were emerged headlong into a Middle Earthian atmosphere of green rolling hills on a shoreline as the skies themselves vibrated with sound. The backbone of the entire show was drummer and percussionist extraordinaire Mark Alfred. His enormous circular drum set was reminiscent of the drummer Neil Peart from Rush. Mark was all over the place pulling out his entire arsenal of effects from light wind chimes to major fills on his shares. All the while he keep the beat for all the dancers.
The Riverdance Troupe was also directed and led by the phenomenal fiddle playing of Patrick Mangan. He pushed and brought out the best in Will, Maggie and all of the Riverdance dancers and band. Whether keeping that Irish Old World sound or the seductive strings of the Flamenco danced by Rocio Montoya, Patrick Mangan was there framing each scene with his playing. Yet, not to be missed was the great solos by saxophonist Emma Frampton and the unusually spectacular Uillieann Pipes played by Tara Howley.
But while the music and singing were great, you went (mostly) for their dancing. One scene completely stole the show and drove the crowd absolutely wild and that’s the Trading Taps scene. Will Bryant, the Riverdancing aficionado battled the tap dancing tandem of Dewitt Fleming Jr and Tyler Knowlin. Dewitt and Tyler seemed to channel the spirits of Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov, but with an urbanized attitude that made it all their own. Dewitt’s mimicry of Will’s stylized dancing was equally amazing and hilarious. The expertise of this scene in every way was just unmatchable. Several times I had to give my wife the preverbal elbow of, did you just see that?
John McColgan directed a stunningly brilliant show in Riverdance 20 Years. The dancing is so top notch, but they’ve included so much more into one unforgettable show. It’s no longer playing, but hopefully there will be another run or should I say, dance.