If opening night is any indicator the future of Irish culture in America is exciting, to say the least.
Camille O'Sullivan's dramatic performance as the first night’s act at the Irish Arts Center entitled “Where are We Now” almost blew the doors off the building on 51st and 11th on Manhattan’s West Side.
Her rendering of Shane MacGowan’s classics "Thousands are Sailing" and “Fairytale of New York" especially had the packed house in thrall.
The pounding rhythm and intense lyrics made for a very special performance. Sullivan's voice described memorably by The New York Times as going from “dark and smoky to feral” (Definitely feral on MacGowan!) was well up to the task. Little wonder The Times described her as an Irish version of Janis Joplin.
For good measure, there’s her take on Dylan, Radiohead, Bowie, Cohen, even Sondheim. Maybe it is the perfect acoustics in the new theater, maybe it is the incredibly mood instilling lighting which would match and beat the best of Broadway but the singer reached glorious heights on the night,
Her Pogues theme perfectly fitted the reality that the Irish Arts Center is largely about the story of migration and the dreams of America which courses through every Irish emigrant’s veins, indeed every emigrant as O’Sullivan pointed out.
The good news is O’Sullivan has residency until the end of December so there is no reason not to catch her marvelous act.
As a taste teaser for what is to come for the future, O’Sullivan will hopefully be only one of the great acts that will perform residencies.
Interestingly, the song played before she came on stage was “Macushla” one of the Tin Pan Alley songs written for lonely Irish emigrants which first appeared in a Chauncey Alcott musical in 1912 setting the tone for the night.
The $60 million project started out as a dream by, among others, then-Congressman Joe Crowley and then-City Council President Christine Quinn, who ensured back in 2006 that the level and scale of ambition would be the most ambitious project ever undertaken in the Irish community.
So when Aidan Connolly and Pauline Turley, the two Irish Arts Center visionaries took to the stage before the grand opening attended by approximately 100 invited guests there was a sense of a long road reaching the end, a mountain having been climbed, and a journey’s end for now (there are other expansion plans) for the most ambitious Irish American project in history.
Turley could not hold back the tears, a clear acknowledgment of how much the finish line meant to her and Connolly despite pandemics and naysayers of whom there was no shortage. Also present was Irish Consul General Helena Nolan, who correctly pointed out the leading role of the Irish government in the building of the dream.
The physical structure which at four stories high and 21,700 square feet is transformative from the moment you step inside. The programming on its first night was equal to the location.
Now the Irish Arts Center is up and running after 15 years as a concept and a dream. As Shane McGowan might say it helps us all to “see a better time
When all our dreams come true.”
For more information and tickets visit irishartscenter.org.