Irish Arts Center's "An Irish Christmas" is a delight


Congressman Joe Crowley sings a song at Symphony Space with Dr. Mick Moloney and Athena Tergis.  (Photo by Erin Baiano)
Congressman Joe Crowley sings a song at Symphony Space with Dr. Mick Moloney and Athena Tergis.  (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Lying just over two miles to the north of its Hell’s Kitchen domain, Symphony Space offered a most simpatico alternative for a special night for the Irish Arts Center’s benefit performance of An Irish Christmas.

In his opening remarks to a near capacity crowd of over 700 people, many who were the center’s most loyal and generous patrons last Sunday night, executive director Aidan Connolly aptly described Symphony Space as a “home away from home” where they have successfully performed a number of productions in tandem with Dr. Mick Moloney in recent years.

One of which is the increasingly popular An Irish Christmas: A Musical Solstice Celebration series that runs from December 6-21 this year in the Donaghy Theater that sells out its limited 99 seat space for most of the shows.

The theater definitely puts you up close and personal with the artists and, for the purpose of this show, enhances the feeling of being at an Irish house party.  However, I must say that the move for one night up to Symphony Space didn’t take away from the annual spectacle at all and, in fact, gave it a little more room to breathe on stage.

In the six years that Moloney has produced the show, he has refined it to a high degree of creativity and efficiency, making sure that the sum of the parts entailed each night provides the right balance of entertainment the theater goers seek in a holiday show.

The secret is building a great core of musicians that he can count on to provide just what he needs on stage with enough flexibility and experience to experiment when necessary and to buttress the talents of guest artists who are added to the program each year.

That teamwork provided by Athena Tergis, Billy McComiskey, Liz Hanley and pianists Brendan Dolan and for the past two years, Donna Long along with dancer Niall O’Leary is the glue that makes this show tick time after time.

This is matched by the teamwork employed by the Irish Arts Center staff as well who do everything possible to make it a very enjoyable experience for the artists and the audiences who are paying the freight and supporting the center’s mission to provide quality and innovative programming.

All those noble attributes aside, it wouldn’t mean that much if the show wasn’t able to stand on its own entertainment value, and that was in evidence all Sunday evening in Symphony Space.

Moloney and company create a mystique on stage that has one wondering what will come next (even if you have seen previous editions of the show like I have and many other devotees).

This was demonstrated, oddly enough, by a silence in the hall (rather than the buzz or hum you often hear at a riveting show) as “Professor” Moloney wove his magical spell with his dexterous introductions of the acts and the history and personalities that defined them.  One wonders how one man knows so much and can so easily recall it all evening, but he has been an outstanding fount of knowledge ever since he arrived on these shores four decades ago.

Even more amazing is Moloney’s insatiable curiosity for learning new things or drawing out information from subjects on stage which is another key ingredient to the success of this Christmas show series.

The special interviewee on Sunday was Congressman Joe Crowley of Queens, who shared his love of politics and Irish music from an early age before displaying his own fine singing voice, performing “The Dawning of the Day” or “Raglan Road” as it also known.

Actor Gabriel Byrne, a long-time supporter of the center and a former cultural ambassador for his native Ireland, sat for some questions before sharing some of his work in progress on his memoirs in readings that gave us a greater insight to the artist who gives as much as he gets from his craft.