Remember the 90’s? Big hair, high waisted short shorts, overalls, glam rock and the never ending commercials for Riverdance: The Lord of the Dance. Well, the 90’s are back, and so is Riverdance. Fast forward 20 years. Girls are cruising around San Jose State with shredded jeans or high waisted cut off shorts…and Riverdance is back for a 20th Anniversary World Tour.
I was so excited to see this show and I have no real idea why. I laughed at the commercials for the show when it was at it’s peak of popularity. Everything about it seems so ridiculous, but I love all things Irish. Surely I would feel like I was back in Ireland, sipping a Guinness, feeling at home amongst a sea of fair skinned gingers. Worst case, it would be cheesy and it would be a night of campy fun…or at least I thought that would be the worst case.
Like overalls on adults, I am not exactly sure why Riverdance is having a resurgence in popularity. The show has apparently been updated, but everything about it seems dated. The set is very basic with a small screen in the back projecting old, pixilated imagery and uninspired scenes. While I never saw the original version, I would be hard pressed to name anything that could be categorized as updated.
There is no doubt that the cast has talent beyond anything I can imagine. The footwork and dancing is impeccable. Despite one or two redeeming numbers during the first act, I struggled remain at all interested in the first half of the show. Instead I looked around the room, trying to figure out if they show was actually sold out because I could not believe people were paying for this.
Between the troupe of female dancers with hair styles reminiscent of the fundamentalist cult from HBO’s Big Love, the strange voice overs about the dawn of time and giving thanks to some higher power to the singing about living to nourish this higher being and to be the blood coursing through his veins, I begin to feel like I was sitting through some cult recruitment show and that I would walk out a member of Scientology.
But then some guys came out in all black and started dancing and it was loud and the dancing was pretty amazing and I was into the show. But then there were bagpipes and a Kenny G style clarinet solo and a flamenco dancer (who was great, but I could not figure out why there was a flamenco dancer). As the curtain fall on the first act, I was completely confused about what was going on, my head was hurting from all the stomping, and if it were not for the fact that I have an obligation to review the show, I would have left at the intermission.
Walking into the second act, I had a couple drinks in me and a commitment to keeping an open mind. Much to my delight, the second act, turned out to be head and shoulders more entertaining than the first. The tap dancing number alone made the show worth sticking around for. That being said, aside from the tap number and a couple of other stand out performances, I found myself wondering again and again what it was I was missing.
While entertaining at moments, the whole show was a mash up of dance styles and genres and eras and if there was a story or plot tying it all together, surely it was over my head. I was not following. One minute we were hearing chanting and cult like singing, then there was flamenco, fundamentalist cult members, someone who sounded like Enya singing a number from Titanic and then tap dancers in New York, Russian dancers (another entertaining act), more flamenco and then a West Side Story style dance off. I just didn’t get it.
That being said, the show sold out and as the crowd filed out into the street, I seemed to be one of the few dissatisfied patrons. I heard several people remark that the show was “brilliant!”
If you are feeling nostalgic for the 90’s, or you want to see why this show has been touring for 20 years, playing over 11,000 times to 25 million people, you can see Riverdance: The 20th Anniversary Tour now though November 29 at the Center for Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.). Tickets are available now via www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787)