Thursday, February 7, 2013


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.


  1. Keith Urban and Keith Harkin do not look alike in the least. I am a big fan of both, and they both look beautiful and hot; but not alike. Each of the singers gave thanks to their fans because that's who they are. I'm sure the fans liked hearing it from each of them.

  2. Linda said exactly what I wanted to say, so I'll just agree with her! :)

  3. I also have to agree with Linda, but not with Mr. Stephens when he says the lads sounded trite and insincere when they thanked their fans. As fans we all know how appreciative they are and we don't mind hearing them say so. We love the accents and we love the guys. Don't mess with Thunderheads!!!

    1. The Canberra performance was excellent and the CT lads and lasses really enjoyed themselves. The audience took a while to warm up (Aussies can be a bit reserved like the Brits when encountering something new and different). Ryan Kelly's revelation about his near-death experience in Ireland last year was not trite but most candid. The fact that the lads spent an hour post-concert with their adoring fans; auto/photo graphing and chatting; shows that they are the genuine article! All power to this Irish phenomenon!

  4. I'm from cooma and went to wollongong and canberra venue's and got autographs at both, the boys were awesome! both nights was amazing, they are a lovely bunch of guys, friendly and sincere and when we met them for autographs after the wollongong concert they all had a chat to everyone waiting. i was a fan before but they will have a place in my heart forever now!
    c u on the ship!!! can't wait ;)

  5. It is interesting that the critic didn't do any research on the songs that were actually sung. He has made several mistakes in that area. I think the audience warmed pretty quickly and it was obvious that the performers fed off the audience participation. It was a brilliant second show in Canberra and I will be at the next.

  6. I guess it is a Critics Circle so I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion:) For me, the entire show was totally amazing and I do not look for or wish to find any fault with it at all. I thought it an honour to have the option of going to the sound check and VIP meet and greet again because they are all that talented and I enjoy every minute that they wish to give us. I hardly ever go to concerts now because artists often forget their fans and can not be bothered to acknowledge them at all. These guys take time to meet with their fans after and sign autographs and that is so rare these days. I love them for that too and will keep going to their shows. Come back here soon guys. Annie

  7. Mr. Stephens has obviously not met Celtic Thunder. If he had he would know that they are neither trite nor insincere. This group of massively talented performers just happens to be the nicest, most sincere group of guys around. They are deeply appreciative of their we are of them. Chances are, Mr. Stephens, that you are going to hear from quite a few of us Thunderheads. Perhaps you should actually meet our guys before you make negative comments about them in the future.

    Gail Allen

  8. I'm a big fan of all the Lads just like tons of others. As much as I like Keith Urban even I,who lives in the States, can tell both Keith's a part. Both are very talented in their own right. Keith Urban has "made it" while Keith Harkin is getting his solo career up & running. All the Lads are very talented in their own right. In fact, 3 others, George, Neil & Ryan have solo CD's out. No matter how many shows the Lads put on, at each show they give it their all & have tons of fun doing it. I'm guessing the reviewer was having a really bad day when he went & saw the show.

  9. I think from reading these comments above that Mr Stephens gets the message "You don't mess with Celtic Thunder". Thunderheads are very protective of our lads and we don't take it well when someone who seemingly knows nothing about them makes unjust comments. We have never found them "trite or insincere", so back off Mr Stephens and learn more about the group before you make any remarks that are not true. Also, it is strange but we never notice the guys moving mikes or props cause they are part of the CT family and we love 'em all. Also Keith Harkin has never been and never will be a Keith Urban look alike. I am a Keith Urban fan and I like him but we love Keith Harkin. Maybe next time around you will have a better outlook on Celtic Thunder and what it means to be a Celtic Thunder fan......