Julie Feeney, the dramatic, flamboyant Irish star and prodigious singer, conductor, and performer, is set to touch down in New York to perform for 10 nights off-Broadway in a music and theatrical show to be co-directed by Performance Space 122’s Vallejo Gantner. The show debuts at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan on April 25.
Feeney, winner of the Choice Music Prize for Irish Album of the Year, takes an avant-garde approach to her innovative, one-of-a-kind sound, which, while rooted in classical music, straddles both the pop and theatrical worlds.
“I’d like it to be a journey where people go into different worlds with me and we explore a range of emotions,” she says when asked to describe the show.
“I want to bring people to different places, to different memory banks, and different places in their lives. We are actually framing the full show now that we’re done with the rehearsals of the music. That is my intention.”
Feeney is currently composing and recording her next album, having crowd-funded to make it. She smashed her target going to 115% after reaching 100% a week before the deadline, and 204 people pledged.
“It’s a very overwhelming experience and I’m just blown away,” she says of the pledge response.
“Then it sets up this ‘wow’ moment where you put pressure on yourself not to disappoint. They paid in advance for the album and may not get to hear it for another year, so it better be right.
“At the bottom of it all, its a validation. You feel like you actually might have moved up a step.”
Using an orchestra of clarinets, flutes, oboes, bassoons, trombones, French horns, trumpets, strings, sticks, harp and percussion from the Irish Chamber Orchestra, her album Pages is an alluring blend of classical orchestration, confessional songwriting and confessional and introspective pop poetry about matters of the heart.
Think Eleanor Rigby palling around with The Beach Boys and you get a sense of Feeney’s vibe.
It’s fitting that she called this album Pages because the lyrics read like a novel. Her Beatle-esque penchant for employing pop as a vehicle for storytelling is spellbinding.
She is getting rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. The Village Voice said she “blends pop ambitions of Gaga with Elvis Costellvian wordplay.”
The theatrics infused in Feeney’s performance lend itself to a Lady Gaga comparison (search her on YouTube and see what I mean) yet Feeney dismisses this.
“I think she is brilliant, but she walks around the street in the costume all day,” Feeney says. “For me, the performer and the person can be different.
“I paint that world for the stage only. I saw Grace Jones and she had 12 costume changes. That’s the other extreme. I can do the costume thing onstage then put it away and walk on the street and be myself.”
The hip, urban vibe of this avant-garde masterpiece is a far cry from her rural county Galway roots. Feeney credits her parents for constantly exposing her siblings to new things.
“My mother was a principal teacher in Abbeyknockmoy,” she says. “We were brought to every music lesson and dancing so that we would have all the experiences that you can. I took to it like a duck to water.
“I think her whole approach to developing talents would be her ethos. That and hard work. Summer holidays were important to her because it was an opportunity to see something different.”
One of those trips included a theater tour of London, which is where Feeney recalls the first time she discovered her calling.
“I was really small and the first time I saw the musical Annie in London theater,” she explains. “I knew this was something I wanted to do.
“I also remember hearing Benjamin Britten Serenade for Tenor Horn and String. That was another major musical moment for me.”
While Feeney has spent countless hours of rehearsal to get the music just so, she says she now begins work this week to stage the performance and the visuals. To her, it’s equally important.
“There’s nothing like seeing a great beautiful show,” she says. “I love contemporary dance. There’s nothing wrong with expressing yourself visually and musically at the same time.”