The Irish Rep under the direction of Charlotte Moore is presenting a special return engagement of “The Irish…and how they got that way” to honor Frank McCourt, its author, who passed just about a year ago. Mr. McCourt would have been proud to see such a fine production that has as one of its highpoints a song about an Irish wake.
Part musical review and part history lesson the six performers entertain with a glint in their eyes a sprint to their steps and a touch of Irish humor and wit to tell their many tales to enlighten us as to what makes an Irishman or woman who they are.
It’s a long road from “The Rose of Tralee” to contemporary Ireland’s U2‘s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with a few speed bumps along the way but in general it’s quite an eye opening evening of historical facts, documented speeches, wonderful projections (Shawn Lewis), toe tapping vaudeville numbers (Barry McNabb), strong acting and beautiful singing by these proud Irish “music makers and dreamers of dreams.”
Staged simply if somewhat stiffly by Ms. Moore, the cast surrounded by lots of luggage and steamer trunks, interweave the historical facts with the many songs to the accompaniment of an upright piano played with great personality by Kevin Winebold and a wandering violinist Patrick Shields who also plays various other instruments along the nearly two hour journey.
It’s the Irish against the English. The Irish against the potato famine. The Irish against each other. The Irish against anyone that isn’t Irish. All punctuated with humor and sadness. How they fought for America. How they helped build America. How they became involved with politics and labor unions. How they overcame the belief of Americans that they were ignorant, filthy and corrupt. Well, mostly overcame. It’s a captivating capsule of Irish history performed to the hilt by a great ensemble cast that is called upon to become many people with many accents and to break your heart and to make you laugh. This they are all expert at.
Terry Donnelly has a unique presence and voice. She is strong of spirit that she lets loose with her “Finnegan’s Wake”. Kerry Conte has a sweet soprano and with Irish Tenor Ciaran Sheehan brings an honesty and bitter sweetness to “Anchors Away”. Gary Troy is a wonder with his great voice and vivid depictions of the many characters he portrays especially in the George M. Cohan sequences that light up the stage. The ensembles best number is “No Irish Need Apply” which is self explanatory.
If somewhat slow going it is always interesting and entertaining. When near the end they list all of the important Irish people who contributed to the positive development of the world you may be surprised at some of the names that pop up. Who knew Walt Disney was of Irish descent? Through September 5th. www.irishrep.org.