From the April 1996 issue of the Boston Irish Reporter
Copyright 1996, Boston Neighborhood News Inc.

Ireland's Riverdance Sensation Sweeps the Big Apple

Bill Whelans Show Celebrates Successful American Premiere

By Bill Forry, News Editor

If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere
It's up to you, New York, New York!
(New York City)- Perhaps composer Bill Whelan can find time this summer to work a Frank Sinatra number into his Riverdance-The Show masterpiece. After all, there is -as of yet- no Italian influence in the multicultural revue that swept through Radio City Music Hall last month. And at the raucous party that followed the Riverdance grand opening on March 14, more than a few Riverdance cast members were spotted kicking the chorus line to Old Blue Eyes' classic paean to the Big Apple.

Riverdance has not only made it in New York during their brief, five day run. They have captivated television audiences from east to west with performances on the David Letterman Show and The Today Show. And while the elite golden circle crowd at Radio City maintained a stiff upper lip through much of the Riverdance spectacle, the overwhelming response out of New York City was one of pride and awe at a show that is vastly improved from the original Dublin performance.

It's a relief obviously to get through the opening night, Bill Whelan told the Boston Irish Reporter at the gala premeire party at the Plaza hotel. "We had two previews before that. All of them have gone very well and tonight, particularly, I think we managed to get the audience to give us one or two standing ovations during the night, so I guess that must be somewhat successful."

Whelan and company have made some positive revisions to the second act of the show, which may surprise American fans who've enjoyed the video filmed at the Point Theatre in Dublin. The changes are due in part to the abrupt departure of the original Riverdance star, Michael Flatley, who left the show in London after a contract dispute. More importantly, says Whelan, the show has had time to fine-tune its performance.

"When we began the show first, I wrote it between October and January of 1994-95 and never really had a chance to workshop the show. So, when we got it up on it's feet, we decided there were a couple of things that needed to be changed and, also, we had some personnel changes over the last year."

The most prominent and controversial addition is Flatley's successor, Birmingham native Colin Dunne. He turns out to be one of the more pleasant surprises in the new Riverdance. Dunne was thrust into the spotlight shortly after joining the London company in the fall of 1995, when he was forced to fill in for Flatley. Less flamboyant that Flatley, Dunne has nonetheless brought his own unique talents to bear on the Riverdance stage. In one triumphant scene called Trading Taps, Dunne steals the show, together with 20 year old Tarik Winston, an African-American tap dancer from the Bronx.

"That's the part of the show that I was initially brought in to do in October", said Dunne. "(It's the) part that I've been involved with right from the beginning. It's great to be strutting my stuff and doing what I do with Tarik, who I've known for a couple of years now." Dunne believes that Riverdance-The Show will score big with American audiences.

"It's not just an Irish audience that it appeals to", he says. "The first time the show went to London when I wasn't involved with it-I think it was largely an Irish audience that went becuase they knew about it and they were curious and they'd maybe seen Irish dancing here there and everywhere. They wanted to know what the big deal was about Riverdance-The Show. During that first London run there was a lot of publicity about it on TV and whatever. But during the second run, it was largely an English audience that went. I think if you can please an English audience, you can please anyone."

In Boston, and other major cities across the States, Riverdance fans will probably have to wait as long as a year for the show to come to town. The company has returned to Ireland for its first run in Belfast, where they'll perform for a month before beginning a 3 week engagement in Cork City. Then, back to London for the summer, where Riverdance is booked for a solid 3 month run. Still, Bill Whelan says that the New York experience has virtually assured that the United States will be the next stop.

"I think it's very much on the cards", he said. "There's a lot of interest. This has been a great thing for Riverdance to come into North America and certainly to play in New York and get the exposure and get the Letterman show and all this. Everything we've done has helped to create a demand for the show and also to boost our producer's confidence to take this show either on tour or to go around (to) a number of venues."

"We're committed to be back in the UK for the whole summer, but I would see us planning to be in North America later in the year."

Riverdance troupe dancer Pat Roddy, from Dundalk, Co. Louth, was a bit more specific.

"I think it's only a matter of time", said Roddy, "within the next 18 months probably, that it will end up in Boston"

. Perhaps it was the show's leading lady, Jean Butler, who best summed up why Riverdance-The Show is sure to reach Boston before another St. Patrick's Day passes.

"There's too many Irish in Boston for it not to do well", she said.

The Boston Irish Reporter

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