'Riverdance 20' is a Dancing, Singing Variety Show at Playhouse Square

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'Riverdance 20' is a Dancing, Singing Variety Show at Playhouse Square
Courtesy Playhouse Square

For some people, the only notable thing about the Riverdance franchise is how it reminds them of Molly Shannon. As you might remember, it was Shannon who played “the woman who wouldn’t swing her arms while walking” on an episode of Seinfeld. And it led to a memorable catfight between Shannon’s character and Elaine.

And yes, it’s true that the dancers in the many Riverdance iterations over the years often don’t move their arms either, giving their furious, highly-percussive tap numbers a unique look. But in this version, Riverdance 20, there’s a lot more going on with multiple arms often moving in all directions.

In addition to the male and female Irish dance troupe members, who flash their feet without betraying any facial expression whatsoever, there are dances from other cultures that are featured. These include a flamenco soloist, a Russian folk dance troupe, and even some spotlighted singers.

All in all, Riverdance 20 is more like a dancing and singing variety show, which may disturb some Riverdance purists. These are the folks who still worship at the shrine of founder Michael Flatley, who created, choreographed and was the principal dancer in the original Riverdance in 1994.

In this production, there are many highlights including a “Trading Taps” sequence when three of the traditional Irish tappers face off against two African-American tappers who are a lot more loose-goosey in their dance patterns. And the Russian dancers are astonishing with the terpsichorean calisthenics they are able to execute.

Everything is tied together by the musical director/percussionist Mark Alfred, who pounds out the beat behind his giant drum kit. Then he takes the stage later and ignites a devastating solo on the bodhran, the Irish one-sided hand-held drum.

While the evening builds to a powerful crescendo, there are some blips along the way. The stage set is basically static, with a single screen used to show various visuals that tend to be either predictable (stars, moon, sun) or boring (a drawing of a cottage). So much more could be done by making the entire stage come alive with projections. And while the singers are serviceable, the soprano soloist has a voice that is almost too fragile, and the baritone soloist can’t hit notes in the lower register.

But who’s complaining when rows of dancers are making their feet fly at warp speed, tapping out rhythms that trigger the pleasure component in our reptilian brain. And we smile.

Riverdance 20
Through February 18 at Playhouse Square, Keybank State Theater, 1615 Euclid Ave. 216-241-6000, playhousesquare.com.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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