By Julia Polinsky
First things first: make sure you check the schedule and confirm
that Michael Flatley will perform on the night you book tickets. If, of course,
that matters to you – seeing a Flatley spectacle with the man himself.
With or without Flatley, Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games
has a walloping impact. There’s lots to look at. LOTS. With no set to speak of,
just a huge, black stage, with a raised platform at the rear, some steps down
from the center of that platform, and some screens, everything else that assaults
your eyes comes from projections.
Subtle, they are not. The opening projection: a giant clock, a
frustrated little boy in a white suit trying to reach its hands, and a grown-up
man who lifts the boy so he can bring the hands together at midnight, and
Whoosh! The clock evaporates! And the show begins. In case you didn’t gather
that this is Flatley’s last dance show, that time has marched on, that life is
change, you just got clubbed over the head with it.
Nothing in this mashup of Riverdance meets rock concert meets
Cirque du Soleil comes within shouting distance of subtlety. Costumes are
symbols. Yes, costume is always character, but not as blatantly as here. In the
ensemble, or soloists, good guys wear white; bad guys, black, with creepy, spiky
shells; the Little Spirit (Jess Judge) is wrapped in airy-fairy, swirly-colored
bodysuit, Morrighan (Brea McGaffey, in this performance), a black-haired
siren/temptress, slithers and stepdances in skin-tight red. Her opposite
number, Saoirse (Erin-Kate McIlravey), whose name means “Freedom,” wears white.
The Lord of the Dance (James Keegan) wears a belt that actually says “Lord of
the Dance”. You get the picture.
So, costumes and choreography are symbol-appropriate, as much as
they can be, when all points lead to Irish dance. Flatley’s choreography blends
Irish dance with other styles, which he has famously modified for flamboyance –
a particularly masculine flamboyance. The show’s not called Lord of the
Dance for nothing. The most exciting moments come from the Dark Lord (Tom
Cunningham) and the Lord Of The Dance. The duel between them is great fun.
His women dancers are given less exciting things to do than the
men, so costuming makes up the eye candy. At times, they seem to have been
outfitted by Victoria’s Secret, or else, inexplicable modified hijab and harem
pants, or references to traditional Irish dance dresses. A cross between the
Rockettes and Riverdance, they’re just not as central to the story, such as it
A very simple tale is told. The main source of conflict – a threat
by the Dark Lord to destroy the Lord of the Dance – is uttered by a giant,
red-faced, Borg-eyed projection. He tells the Little Spirit that the she’s
playing a Dangerous Game, that the final battle will happen soon, and when it’s
over, the Lord of the Dance will be dead. DEAD! Bwahahahaaaa!!! The Little
Spirit then plays her (presumably magic) flute, and the theme of Lord of the
Dance fills the air with (presumably) hope. As I said, not subtle.
Fear not; this is family-friendly entertainment. Good triumphs;
evil is vanquished, and the hero gets the girl. Not a single surprising thing
happens throughout the show, so the genius behind Lord of the Dance:
Dangerous Games cloaks the bare bones, comic-book level of simplicity in
the eye-candy solos of Saoirse and Morrighan, the Lord of the Dance himself,
and the Dark Lord. There’s also terrific ensemble dancing, and lots of
projections of bangs, flames, explosions, unicorns, rainbows (yes, really), and
the green, green land of Eire.
In front of these projections, the company fills the stage with
remarkable Irish-style dancing. I say Irish-style because the strict
requirements of traditional Irish dance demand stillness in the upper body,
while the legs and feet move freely and often.
Not here. For Michael Flatley, the descriptions in his Playbill
bio, “broke the mold” and “departed from the traditional,” seem to be code for
“the Vegas version of Irish dance.” Still, remarkable tapping, high-kicking,
and stepping are out in full force. It’s a pity that the dancers looked like
they were working hard. Of course they were – buts it should never show.
After some lovely solo singing by Erin the Goddess (Sophie Evans),
and a couple of fiddle duets, excitingly played in astonishingly high heels and
sequined, extremely short dresses by fiddlers Giada Costenaro Cunningham and
Valerie Gleeson, and a Robojig (nearly indescribable glowing robots, step
dancing), the Bad Guys threaten the Little Spirit and the Dark Lord breaks her
flute. Again, fear not! The Lord of the Dance magically repairs it for her.
The Duel, the destruction of the Lord of the Dance, his revival, and the final
defeat of the Dark Lord: well, you get the idea. Everybody’s happy. The End.
But not really. Just when you think it’s over, Flatley takes the
stage, in a coda that has zero to do with the plot. Here is a talent so huge,
with the charisma to go with it, that he could probably just go through barre
exercises and the audience would be enchanted. In his late 50s, with a damaged
spine, ruined hamstrings, recurring broken bone in one foot, and in constant
pain, he gets out on that stage and is the embodiment of everything he’s
doing. He inspires reverence and awe, for his professionalism, his talent, his
vision, his ability, and his simply smashing dancing.
The company, energized by his appearance, comes vividly to life.
For ten minutes, real dance magic happens on that huge stage, with no need for
projections to fill in the gaps (although there is a charming film of 3
Flatleys spliced together). Is that ten minutes worth sitting through the
previous two hours of Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games? Absolutely.
And that’s why you should check to be sure he’s dancing, when you buy tickets.
Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games
At the Lyric Theater
214 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036
Tickets: http://www.lordofthedance.com/ or
Through January 3, 2016