|George Donaldson, Emmett Cahill, Ryan Kelly, Keith Harkin, Neil Byrne|
Royal Theatre, Canberra,
Tuesday 5th February 2013
Reviewed by Bill Stephens.
You certainly don’t have to be Irish to enjoy this slickly produced tribute to Celtic heritage, and the power of modern marketing, which was clearly designed to push the nostalgia buttons of Irish expats with its theme of “Home”, but no less enjoyable for that.
As the audience entered the auditorium of the cavernous Royal Theatre they were greeted by an artfully lit stage on which was an excellent multi-level set suggesting the ruins of an ancient stone castle along the Irish coast, with the mast of a tall sailing ship visible through several of the well-placed entrances to the performing area.
As soon as the near-capacity crowd was seated, the lights dimmed and a disembodied voice entoned the now seemingly obligatory poem which seems to precede every Irish show as fog swirled mysteriously over the setting and dark figures took up their places onstage. Suddenly the music and the lights came-up to reveal five handsome, impeccably styled, young men clad, not in traditional kilts as you might expect, but in smart tailored suits, singing the stirring harmonies of “Heartland”.
|Celtic Thunder on stage.|
Even though Celtic Thunder had only visited Canberra once before, most of the audience appeared to be fans. Indeed many had travelled from as far away as Wagga Wagga and Cooma, and the group was greeted with ecstatic applause.
Keith Urban look-alike, Keith Harkin, lead off the solos with an excellent version of “The Dutchman”, to be quickly followed by Emmett Cahill with a gently intense performance of “Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears”. Neil Byrne’s first solo “Lagan Love” featured a beautiful violin interlude, while Ryan Kelly introduced himself with a driving version “Black is the colour”.
Following a toe-tapping Clancy Brothers ensemble medley, the senior member of the group, George Donaldson, charmed with a touchingly introspective rendition of “The Old Man”. Later in the program he also sang a similarly fine version of the Harry Chapin hit, “Cats in the Cradle”.
Song after song followed in quick succession, often without introduction. Solos and ensemble numbers were interrupted by brilliant instrumental interludes. Some numbers were choreographed, and all bore evidence a skilful director, with some new element being introduced to every song.
It was a highly polished, tight presentation, with the whole company on stage for the full two and a half hours, except for a 20 minute interval. Especially notable was the fact that none of the singers used face-covering hand microphones, favouring head-mics, which allowed them the freedom to use their hands expressively, perform choreography and play instruments when required.
At various points during the performance, each of the five singers was allowed a few moments to introduce a song, or share some biographical detail. While this provided the audience with the opportunity to individualise the singers, it was a pity that given the tightness of the rest of the show, more thought had not been given by the singers as to the best way to use these moments. Surely it was only necessary for just one of the singers to tell the audience how much they appreciated their fans being present. By the time the third person re-iterated this, it had begun to sound trite and insincere.
The only other blemish on the superb presentation was the stage-hand setting up guitars and props throughout the show, which drew focus every time he was caught in the spotlight, which was often.
Special mention must be made of the superb seven member band, led by David Munro on Keyboards, and including Nicole Hudson on violin, Seana Davey on harp and whistles, who also demonstrated some very fancy footwork, Laura Durrant on cello, guitarist Dave Baker, Barry Kerr on whistles and bodhran and Declan O’Donoghue on percussion.
The three girls barefooted in pretty Celtic-inspired costumes, and the men clad in plan dark kilts, not only provided superb, endlessly varied backing arrangements, but participated enthusiastically in the staging, insuring constant visual variety, which was enhanced by constant changes of costume by the five singers. For the finale all the men donned traditional kilts for a stirring rendition of “Mo Ghile Mear” which brought the adoring audience to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.
During the evening it was announced that Celtic Thunder would be returning to Canberra later in the year with a new show “Mythology”. If you missed them this time around, watch out for that one.