|The performers in 'From Galway to Graceland'|
Padraig Allen brought his McLean Avenue Band to the Jersey Shore on Saturday, bringing some much-needed cheer to the storm-ravaged region with his delightful show “From Galway to Graceland” at the Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan.
The Patricia Murphy School of Irish Dance started the evening into high-stepping gear. It was heartwarming to see the permeation of Irish culture into the American landscape in the faces of these dancers, and it was a clever prelude to an evening that celebrated the tangled roots of Irish American ethos.
Jessica Semins is a native Long Islander who, according to her bio, participated in Blas, the University of Limerick’s Traditional Irish Music summer program.
In her cocktail dress and high heels, she brought a flirtatious sass to the program, skipping through the audience as she furiously fiddled. “Many of the fellas necks were stretching a bit in the aisles,” Allen joked.
Her playing easily shifted from the intricate reels to the back porch riffing of country staples like “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Being from McLean Avenue, they re-worked to tune to have Satan sashay to Yonkers instead.
The McLean Avenue band is rounded out by Jersey boy Buddy Connolly (keyboards), Joe Biancorosso (guitar) and Tony Ryan (drums).
The set list spanned two hours and since the show was called “From Galway to Graceland,” it touched on traditional Irish parlor songs (“Tell Me Ma”), tender Irish ballads (“Raglan Road”), and southern-fried ditties (“Wagon Wheel,” “Troubled Fields”) to create a thoroughly entertaining variety show.
They were joined by the Dublin-based Emerald Fire dance ensemble, headed by director/choreographer Joanna Barry. Since this was an Irish American show, the dance expression called for forays into jazz, modern and tap, and the troupe remained one step ahead of the music at every turn.
Barry and her girls slipped off the tap shoes and slid into some evening wear and gathered around the Irish harp for a stirring performance of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a fitting acknowledgement of the difficult re-building going on at the shoreline that is only a few blocks from the theater.
To be sure, the show had a few momentary swims in the auld corn syrup. Allen’s gorgeous voice went to work on “Danny Boy,” and as I remarked to my wife that this was a bit Catskill schmaltzy for my liking, she remarked, “Look at how the crowd is lapping this up! The Irish love their schmaltz. I mean, you married a Jew, right?” She had me there.
Even in the cornier moments, Allen’s proud Irish heart and megawatt smile effectively sold it, and I found myself whooping and hollering at times against my better judgment. If that’s not the mark of a great showman I don’t know what is!
Catch the McLean Avenue Band at two big shows on March 17 -- the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, Long Island at 2 p.m., and Empire Casino in Yonkers at 8 p.m. For more dates or to pick up their excellent new CD, Easy and Free, or log onto www.mccleanavenueband.com .
Check out the McLean Avenue Band performing 'Galway to Graceland' last year: