Every year that “Riverdance — The Musical” makes land in Capital Region theaters, the Irish spectacle looks slightly more diminished. With each pass, the musical that celebrates the power and reach of Irish dance returns with fewer dancers, fewer musicians and few singers.
However, as seen this past weekend at the Palace Theatre, the journey that carries viewers across Ireland and the shores of Spain and America is still a beautiful one. The credit is due to the expressive score by Bill Whelan that matches the heart-stopping rhythmic thunder of the remaining Irish dancers. Together, the line of synchronized hard-shoe stepping and the colorful, textured music bestow upon “Riverdance” power that is undeniable.
Since 1995, the show has circumnavigated the globe several times over. In its recent tour, the Russian dancers and the female fiddlers are gone, and with only a five-piece band, some of the music had to be overlaid electronically. The stage has shrunk, too, with the dancers only occupying its center, with the side boards given up to the small accompanying ensemble.
The heart and soul of “Riverdance” remains with marvelous dancing, led by Craig Ashurst, and the music directed by keyboardist Cathal Synnott.
“Riverdance” is a suite of musical and dance highlights that blends seamlessly. It opens right away with the crowd-pleasing “Reel Around the Sun,” with the cast of dancers nailing the wood with their hard shoes while forming symmetrical patterns. They sweep in circles that dissolve into lines that finish in what everyone recognizes as the “Riverdance” trademark — the chorus line that runs from one end of the stage to the other with the dancers pounding out their precision footwork to the audience’s delight.
Ashurst, out in front, was a pleasure to behold. Tall and slim, he hit his marks with conviction. He oozed a vigor that read to the last aisle. Unfortunately, his partner, Chloey Turner, did not match his vibe. She looked tired and bland, executing her steps correctly but without any zeal. Of the principal dancers, she was the weakest. Conversely, flamenco dancer Marita Martinez-Rey landed her zapateados sharply.
The most entertaining dance number is “Trading Taps,” in which the male Irish steppers battle with American tappers. The dancers go note-to-note, mocking each other’s style in a friendly cultural tug-of-war that ends with tapper Michael E. Wood shooting skyward in a dozen split jumps that finish in a split on the floor.
The Irish music, which shifts into jazz and flamenco, carries all the action along smoothly. Most moving to hear was the uilleann pipe solo played with care by Matt Bashford. Also terrific were Pat Mangan on fiddle, who skipped about the stage joyously, and percussionist Mark Alfred, who was the heartbeat of the entire show. His rhythmic strikes and tones guided “Riverdance” across the ocean into the hearts of the Capital Region once again.