St. Patrick’s Day is almost upon us, which means its time to celebrate our Irish heritage in style. From plays to the festival stage to the big screen, it’s the best time of the year to go green.
Let’s start with some recommended theater picks. On Broadway the positive buzz surrounding the Irish-themed musical Once is literally off the charts already. Scheduled to host its gala opening on St. Patrick’s Day, the show is based on the celebrated 2007 Oscar winning Irish film of the same name.
On board for the Broadway version are the considerable skills of director John Tiffany (who’s production of Black Watch, a gripping play about Scottish soldiers in the Iraq war, wowed both critics and the public last year) and Irish playwright Enda Walsh. The talented pair have created an immensely touching new drama, fleshing out the minor characters from the film and making their stories much bigger parts of the new stage show.
Things change when you get to Broadway -- pop singers exchange places with professionally trained ones, bit part actors get replaced by barnstormers, and everything gets bigger – and for Once – genuinely better.
Some are already citing Once as a strong contender for a Tony award for Best New Musical in a season that has seen precious few of them to speak of. Alongside its already famous set list of songs, the show has two particularly dynamic leads in the almost supernaturally handsome Steve Kazee and the gifted actress Cristin Milioti. Together the pair is dazzling, threatening to redefine your memory of the classic film with the intensity of their live performances.
In an interview with the Irish Voice as the show began previews in February Milioti said, “It was important to me not to watch the film before I developed the role. I sill haven’t seen it in fact. My concern was that I might start to become to influenced or try to repeat what she had done so well.”
Fans intending to catch the blockbuster over the St. Patrick’s Day weekend should take note, Once on Broadway is absolutely its own thing. Yes it takes its cues from the original Irish film (which grossed $20 million at the box office) but now it’s something much more than the rough and raw sketch that won the hearts of countless moviegoers.
Now it’s an all singing, all dancing show. Remember that and you’ll have the time of your life.
For a nice change of pace I recommend spending 90 beguiling minutes in the company of two of Ireland’s most eminent actors, Dermot Crowley and Dearbhla Molloy, in poet Paul Durcan’s Give Me Your Hand, now playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre in the Chelsea section of the city.
The show is built around Durcan’s lofty poems which were inspired by portraits in the National Gallery in London, from artists as diverse as Van Gogh and Van Eyck, to Rubens and Gainsborough. Durcan has the skill to mine these unforgettable images to create new poetry that will make you laugh, shudder or even move you to tears.
It’s a brave choice to carve out a space for poetry in a culture that much prefers prose, but the directors of the Irish Rep have made a career of defying conventions.
The unmistakable Irish notes in Durcan’s work (an impulse toward delight and an arresting melancholy) give this whole production both a lightness and seriousness of purpose. Half the pleasure of this show is realizing that it’s happening at all.
Upstairs on the Rep’s main stage, the mighty Eugene O’Neill has lost none of his power to divide critics, the public and the characters he created.
Beyond the Horizon is his Pulitzer Prize winning debut play, and it evinces every major preoccupation that marked his astonishing career -- the traps of memory, the inability to live in the moment, the gulf that can open between one’s dreams and oneself. It’s a heavy and at times lugubrious play and it makes for riveting viewing as perhaps the most provocative show in town at the moment. We recommend it without reservation. Visit www.irishrep.org for more.
It wouldn’t be a celebration of Ireland and our national saint without music. This week there’s so many options to choose from you’ll have your work cut out.
First up is a very special performance from two members of the Irish super group Celtic Thunder. Ryan Kelly and Neil Byrne will step out in the acknowledged home of the Irish in Yonkers, Rory Dolan’s bar and restaurant on McLean Avenue.
“I’ll be performing music off my album In Time,” Kelly says of the candlelight performance. “Neil will share songs from the Pale Blue Jak album Faces. We’ll do some Celtic Thunder tunes, and we’ll even have a few surprises for you! Afterwards we’ll take time out to chat and sign autographs as well,” he promises.
The talented pair will perform an acoustic candlelight set on Sunday, March 18, with the show starting at 7 p.m. For more information visit www.rorydolans.com
Singer and songwriter Liam O’Maonlai of the Hot House Flowers has been a star for three decades, and he’s in town this week for a series of engagements through March 19.
A master pianist and a musician’s musician, he also plays guitar, harp, tin whistle, bodhran, didgeridoo, and banjo and has recorded with some of the world’s most noted bands and musicians.
This week O’Maonlai will play St. Stephen’s Green on Jersey Shore on the March 16 and the Scratcher in New York City on March 18. For more details visit the Hot House Flowers website at hothouseflowers.com.
The Irish Arts Center has been at the forefront of innovative new ways to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day that don’t involve booze and green leprechaun hats for years now.
In recent years they have begun a brilliant new tradition of distributing free books by Irish and Irish American authors to the grateful public during their annual book day celebration -- and on Friday, March 16 they’ll do it again. To date they’ve distributed over 10,000 books to passing New Yorkers, and to find out where to pick one up sign up for their Twitter account (#IACBookDay) and Facebook Page updates.
For younger St. Patrick’s Day fans there’s there annual open day at the center which will be held on Sunday, March 18 from noon until 5 p.m.
Join other young folk for an afternoon of authentic Irish music, dance, song, language and crafts, or simply sit back and enjoy the variety of performances and activities taking place throughout the day. It promises be fun for the whole family, which may be a welcome change of pace from some of the shenanigans you’ll witness around Fifth Avenue.
Visit www.irishartscenter.org for more.