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Home | Maine State Music Theater Reviews | THE IRISH AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY is a Hit at Portland Stage

THE IRISH AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY is a Hit at Portland Stage

THE IRISH AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY is a Hit at Portland Stage

Opening night of THE IRISH... AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY at Portland Stage (PS) was a blast and I loved the show. McCourt's irreverent musical is co-produced by PS and Maine State Music Theatre (MSMT) as a way to extend both of their seasons. This uplifting musical celebrates all things Irish (definitely not the British), in a comical way, in the tumultuous 20th and 21st centuries

Opening night of THE IRISH... AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY at Portland Stage (PS) was a blast and I loved the show. McCourt's  irreverent musical is co-produced by PS and Maine State Music Theatre (MSMT) as a way to extend both of their seasons. This uplifting musical celebrates all things Irish (definitely not the British), in a comical way, in the tumultuous  20th and 21st centuries

 through the eyes of Pulitzer Prize winning author Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes'Tis, Teacher Man). McCourt's razor-sharp wit, coupled with his trademark bitter irony and his boundless love for the Irish, are all underscored by glorious music in this production. This show is filled with many of the old Irish favorites I grew up listening to, and includes dancing, Irish history and comedy.    
The cast includes some familiar faces to MSMT audiences including Curt Dale Clark, Cary Michelle Miller, Charis Leos, Musical Director Edward Reichert, and fiddler Ernest Sauceda.  Peter Cormican and understudies Cam-eron Wright and Emily Davis round out the on stage cast.
The two-act show is familiar to Curt Dale Clark, MSMT Artistic Director, who said he performed in the show in Chicago under the direction of the show's Playwright, Frank McCourt, and Clark said it was an honor to work with one of the most celebrated and beloved Irish-American authors of our time. 
Director Marc Robin was asked to collaborate on the original Chicago production 15 years ago and says "As I drove to my first rehearsal I remember thinking: The Irish...and How They Got That Way choreographed by Mark Rabinowitz (My original Jewish name before I changed it to Robin)...What do I know about the history of the Irish? Virtually nothing.  If it has been The Jewish...and How They Got That Way I could have written volumes!"  Robin does an excellent job with the movement of the show and choreography and it is clear he knows the show well.  
The four actors, who are perfect in their respective roles, are on stage the entire time in both acts and open the show with a rousing medley of Irish favorites that ignites  the audience and inspires us to clap and sing along.  The actors use no body mics, their projection and the balance is perfect due in large measure to the excellent dynamic control of Reichert's on stage quartet. The multi-talented Fiddler, Ernest Sauceda, who also sings a song on stage during the show, Drummer Eric Landau, and Guitar/Banjo/Accordion Jimmy Dority who also performs on center stage at one point are excellent.   
In Act I some highlights were "Fields of Athenry" sung by Miller, Clark sings "Skibbereen"  which is a sad moment in the production and sings great harmony in "The Anchors Aweigh" with Miller.  Leos is always an on stage dynamo and is featured in "The Irish Washerwoman" with Miller and "No Irish Need Apply" (reprise). Cormican is strong throughout the first act and does a lot of the story telling. He has a very strong voice and superb stage presence.  
At intermission I was wondering how McCourt could top Act I with material. I was pleasantly surprised by the increase in tempo of the show and the new focus on the Irish in America and many famous personalities are brought into the show. The use of audiovisuals is great during these scenes.  
Some of my favorite scenes in the second act include "Give My Regards to Broadway" by the Company, "Rings on Her Fingers" by Leos, "Has Anybody Seen Kelly?" by Miller, a wonderful and seemingly effortless rendition of "Danny Boy" by Clark, 
"Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder" by Clark and Cormican, "Yankee Doodle Dandy (as James Cagney)" by Clark in which he dances wonderfully.  
The highlight of the show for me was the hilarious scene in the middle of Act II "Finnegan's Wake" in which Leos, Clark and Company get inebriated on stage.  It is one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen and with Leos as the main character; I cannot imagine it now with any other actress. You really have to experience this and it is worth the price of a ticket alone.
I really had no idea what to expect when I walked into the theater since the two theater companies produce different types of productions and THE IRISH... AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY left me thoroughly entertained and wanting more. I think it is fitting that McCourt picked modern-day Irish rockers U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" as the final number which the audience is encouraged to sing along with.   
Kudos to the talented Anita Stewart who not only designed the amazing set and is also Executive and Artistic Director of Portland Stage. We had a delightful conversation after the show and I will be back to see more of her productions in this upcoming season. There is also not a bad seat in the house. Stewart is ably assisted by Stage Manager Shane Van Vliet, Sound Designer John Morrison, Lighting Design Gregg Carville, and Costume Design Kathleen Payton Brown.
The show has sold so well that it has been extended through Sunday, September 11. In regards to extending the show, Anita Stewart, Executive and Artistic Director at Portland Stage commented "This is a new venture for us and happens at a time of year when neither of us is programming, so it was a little bit scary to think, is this going to sell?  Lucky for all, the community is very excited and we are pleased to announce that we are in fact extending the show by one week to September 11th, 2016!"
Curt Dale Clark, Artistic Director of MSMT added "I have the benefit of having done two productions of this show in the past and I know what this show does to an audience - they go crazy for this show, they just love it, and it's really fun for the performers too.  I think it's the perfect way for us to say to the theater community in mid coast Maine, here is Portland Stage and Maine Stage Music Theater bringing you THE IRISH... AND HOW THEY GOT THAT WAY."
This show has a lot of buzz and tickets are selling fast so contact portlandstage.org or call the box office today at 207-774-0465 if you want to see it before it closes. Portland Stage is at 25A Forest Avenue, Portland. 

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