Michael Flatley returns to New York this week for the first time in years, and for the last time on stage with his iconic show "Lord of the Dance," which will debut on Broadway. Flatley spoke to Debbie McGoldrick about his career, family and shift from center stage to back.
At 57 years of age, Michael Flatley has ticked all the boxes and then some.
The shock therapy he injected into traditional Irish dance starting in 1994 with "Riverdance" resonates around the world to this day. After his departure from "Riverdance" he turned right around to create his own "Lord of the Dance" show that took to the stage for the first time in Dublin in 1996 and hasn’t stopped since.
He’s earned fame and fortune (estimated at £195 million – $300m – in this year’s London Sunday Times Rich List) and has entertained millions around the world. He found love with a fellow Irish dancer, married and had a son, Michael Junior, and now employs more than 300 thanks to the popularity of the three "Lord of the Dance" troupes on tour.
As Flatley has gotten older the number of lords who have stepped into his shoes has grown larger, but the Chicago native, who started dancing at the age of 11, is still performing. That’s about to change, though, and what better place to have a last dance than Broadway, where Flatley will bring a revamped version of his signature show, now called "Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games" to the Lyric Theatre starting on November 7 until January 3 of 2016.
Flatley won’t dance in the whole show, but he will make a special appearance at the end of each performance. And no doubt, all eyes will be on the world’s most famous Irish dancer and master showman who says he’s finally ready to exit, stage left.
“My legs are in bits right now, but I’ll tell you one thing: When I’m on that Broadway stage I’ll be dancing like I’m a teenager,” Flatley told the Irish Voice last week during a call from London, where he’s been rehearsing with the "Lord of the Dance" troupe stationed in the West End until next year.
“It’s been my dream to do Broadway. I couldn’t think of a better way to say goodbye to my fans after all of these years.”
Flatley has spent the past year or so on a farewell tour in various cities throughout the world. He spent part of the summer with his troupe in South Africa; he’s been to Budapest and Bratislava and of course Dublin, where it all began for "Lord of the Dance" back in 1996.
“I’ve been wanting to go to the cities to say thank you to the promoters who have supported me and stuck with the show for all these years. I think it’s only fair that I do that,” says Flatley.
His commitment to perform in Berlin this week means that Flatley won’t arrive in New York until Friday, one day before his Broadway engagement.
Why Broadway, and why now?
“Well, my big dream was always Madison Square Garden and we did that several times. It’s always such a buzz, playing in New York,” says Flatley, who will be joined by his wife Niamh and son Michael for the two months he’ll be here.
“It’s coming to the end of my career, and last year Niamh asked me what I would like to do. I said I’d like to do the West End in London which we did, and I want to do Broadway.
“We did the London Palladium and ended up staying for a year. When we got the call from Broadway to say that a theater had become available, I said take it.”
Flatley’s physical ailments have piled up, no surprise given the strenuous nature of the job and the 200 percent effort he gives to every performance. His spinal column is totally out of whack. Ditto his ribs. His legs, once insured for £40 million, take a long time to get going each morning.
“But you know, I don’t care,” Flatley says. “The pain is nothing. This is what I love to do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Flatley is the first to admit that he never envisaged having such a long and supremely successful career thanks to shaking up the world of Irish dance. Prior to "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance," Irish dancers never thought much about securing steady employment onstage. Those two shows utterly changed that, and brought a new stream of kids of all nationalities into Irish dance schools.
“How could any of us have seen this coming? It’s just blind hard work and faith that the show would catch on,” says Flatley. “We kept on going, kept our heads down. The harder we worked, the luckier we got.
“What sells 'Lord of the Dance,'” he adds, “is word of mouth. People start talking about how much they love it, and that brings in other people. It’s been that way for years.”
Fans are still lining up for "Lord of the Dance." One of the troupes will start a 40 city U.S. tour next year, and if demand is there after the Broadway shows it will move to a new house. An extended run in Las Vegas is also on the cards.
“We have some great young talent coming up now. It’s time to pass the torch,” said Flatley. “They are sensational dancers and the girls go crazy for them. I’m so proud of them. We’ve worked so hard.”
No one works harder, or smarter, than Flatley. "Lord of the Dance" has thrived because of his onstage magnetism and equally impressive attention to every single backstage detail. He’s very much captain of the ship from top to bottom, and he says it will remain that way when he steps away from the stage.
It’s been a year of change for Flatley, not all of it good. His father Michael Senior passed away in March at home in Chicago. Flatley was exceptionally close to his Co. Sligo-born dad and still feels the loss.
“There’s not many like him left,” said Michael. “Every morning on my run I think of him. He’s still with me all the time.”
Flatley also recently made the decision to sell his Co. Cork mansion, the famed Castlehyde, which he painstakingly rehabbed after he bought it in 1999. His business interests are based in London, which is where Michael Junior attends school.
“It’s a remarkable place and I’m proud to have been the custodian,” Flatley says of Castlehyde, which is for sale for €20 million, “but we spend only two weeks of the year there now and it’s not feasible to carry it any more. We still have two other places in Ireland.
“I have a wonderful, warm feeling about Castlehyde, but after Dad passed it became different,” Flatley adds, nothing that his father and mother Eilish, originally from Co. Carlow, would travel from Chicago to spend long stretches at the mansion.
Does Michael Junior, now eight years old, have any aspirations to follow not only in his father’s footsteps but his mother’s too? Niamh O’Brien was a dancer in one Flatley’s troupes, and the couple married at a lavish party in Castlehyde in 2006.
“Well, he has natural rhythm,” Flatley says of his son, “but we try not to push him into it. He comes to the shows and he dances like crazy around the place, so you never know.”
Flatley spends at least two hours during the day going through the show’s numbers and putting his dancers through their paces. And they’re all ready for the lights of Broadway.
“I think everyone will love the new version of 'Lord of the Dance,'” says Flatley. “The whole team is so fired up. We’ve been training like we’re racehorses, and now it’s time to get out of the gate.”
(For tickets to "Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games," visit Ticketmaster.com. Flatley will not perform at matinee shows, and will also not perform on the nights of November 18 and 19, and December 4 and 5, due to prior commitments.)