‘Riverdance 20’ delights packed house at NJPAC

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‘Riverdance: The 20th Anniversary Tour ‘ completed a triumphant run at NJPAC, dazzling the audiences with an uplifting mix of song, dance and virtuoso musicianship. (Photo by David VanDeventer)

NEWARK, NJ — “Riverdance: The 20th Anniversary World Tour” concluded a brief run at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark last weekend, thrilling audiences with a near-perfect blend of Irish-themed dancing, singing and stellar musicianship. Along with everything that made the original production so dazzling and memorable, this latest version boasts new costumes, lighting and projection graphics. The addition of a new number, “Anna Livia.” showcased female members of the Irish dance troupe in an acapella hard-shoe number.
Composer Bill Whelan, producer Moya Doherty, and director John McColgan join forces to give theatergoers just what they want to see, hear and feel. Consisting of two fast-paced acts sandwiching a brief intermission, “Riverdance 20” is that rare spectacle that is well-suited for all ages; just as fresh and exhilarating as when it first set the world on fire back in 1995.
The stage was adorned with minimal décor, positioning band members off to both sides. This allowed viewers to focus on the singers and dancers who roamed the full expanse of the floor space and center steps. Ever-changing symbols of the sun, moon and scenes of lush landscapes filled the back wall, punctuating and enhancing the differing musical numbers.
Despite being primarily known as an Irish dance phenomenon showcasing Celtic tradition and imagery, “Riverdance 20” ventures into exotic territories that mesh perfectly with the entire concept of dance as a wondrous and invigorating metaphor for life. Bathed in glowing red lights and wrapped in a flowing crimson dress, Flamenco Dancer Marita Martinez-Rey was a fiery explosion of raw energy and sensual movement.
The Russian Ensemble careened across the stage in a whirling assault of acrobatic routines that nearly defied the concepts of gravity and reality. Dynamic tap duo Michael Everett and Christopher Broughton provided spellbinding comic relief, engaging a regimented male dance group in a hilarious yet brilliantly choreographed turf battle “dance off.”
Beyond the world-renowned dancing, the sound quality was a thing of beauty. Aided by the exceptional acoustics of the NJPAC theater, the soloists who sang the essential story narrative delivered their tunes with the clarity and finesse of a polished recording-studio session. And despite relying on prerecorded background audio tracks, the thundering interplay of the four-piece Riverdance Band kept the entire show moving at a brisk pace, sweeping listeners along from one song to the next. Musical director and master fiddler Pat Mangan had the crowd mesmerized by his boyish charm and dangling on the end of his bow. Drummer/percussionist Mark Alfred kept the various dance troupes on their toes, while Uilleann piper Matt Bashford and saxophonist Ken Edge provided an aural backdrop of moods ranging from sheer ecstasy to soulful melancholia.
Before the curtain closed one last time, our Sunday afternoon crowd at NJPAC showered the performers with applause and standing ovations for several of the principal dancers, including powerful lead dancers Stephen Brennan and Lauren Smyth. With scheduled touring stops planned well into 2017, “Riverdance 20” shows no sign of losing its footing with an adoring public any time soon. Regardless of whether you are an expert hoofer or are the owner of two clumsy left feet, it will leave you with your heart pumping and your toes tapping. And quite possibly asking yourself, “How did they do that?”
For information about upcoming events at NJPAC, check out their website at www.njpac.org.