Guest Author - Chris Curtis
Celtic Women is staged production of the critically acclaimed PBS special that found an enthusiastic audience thirsting for more Riverdance / Lord of the Dance type productions. It features the vocal talents of Chloe, Lisa, Méav and Orla accompanied by player Mairead Loughmore on Fiddle and produced by David Downes, Composer & Musical Director.
I enjoyed the performance for what it was but my reaction was very similar to what I felt while watching it on TV. It was highly theatrical and extremely produced which, to me, overshadowed these woman's vocal talents. It was a smoke and mirrors show designed to dazzle the audience with visual effects. If you are looking for Celtic traditions, this is not the production to see. This is a full blown Las Vegas style interpretation of Celtic traditions but it completely lacks the emotional impact and energy you'd expect of Celtic performers.
These women absolutely have wonderful voices but I heard no emotion in their singing. Mainly they sung with hands positioned by their sides in what seemed to be an unnatural pose. Any hand gestures were clearly choreographed for emphasis. The emotional Scottish tune, Caledonia, failed to evoke any imagery and feeling toward Scotland as it is intended by its melody and lyrics. Even the love song, The Blessing, sung by Lisa and accompanied by David lacked expression. There were also several song selection not of Celtic origin, most notably, Beyond the Sea, Scarborough Fair, and Over the Rainbow. While nicely done, Granuaile's Dance was choreographed to simulate a Ceili dance but the traditional dance steps which characterize Ceili were missing. The interpretation of Enya's "Orinoco Flow" was probably the most powerful piece in the set and well enjoyed by the audience.
The petite Máiréad, on fiddle, was highly energetic, flitting all over the stage like Tinkerbelle. She seemed more into her theatrics than she was into her fiddling which was adequately performed. While she is an accomplished fiddler, I wouldn't rank her performance in this production high in comparison to equally energetic but traditional celtic fiddlers such as Natalie McMaster, Jennifer Rollands, Britney Hass, or Hannaka Cassale. Again, in my opinion, the theatrics stole the show from the music. Both percussionists put on a powerful performance and they seemed to be enjoying themselves. The choir, while on stage a good portion of the show, was shrouded by the lights and smoke but provided strong accompaniment to the women vocalists.
Don't get me wrong, the audience all around me was into this production completely. It is a terrific entertainment value if you like Las Vagas type shows. The light show was dazzling as was the staging and costuming. There were several standing ovations throughout the evening. I heard one person remark on the way out after the show, "So powerful". The performers are accomplished vocalists and musicians, the music is pleasing to the ears, the production is visually mesmerizing. The stage production is a good replication of the PBS presentation. Go see it, if you enjoyed the PBS production, you will feel you spent your money well but don't be disappointed if you are looking for a traditional Celtic production with all the feelings and connections that come during a typical folksy performance in which Celtic traditions are honored.