2005-03-25 / Columnists

Audiences Take a “Taste of Ireland”

A Wave Review

March 18, 19, and 20 were three “Great Days for the Irish” at the Post Theater in Fort Tilden. These were the dates on which the Rockaway Theatre Company delighted audiences with A Taste of Ireland: A marvelous musical salute to Irish and Irish-American culture. In the first Act, RTC Artistic Director, John Gilleece, along with his sister, Maureen Gilleece-Harms, presented a brief outline of Irish history from the formation of the four counties of Ireland, through the infamous potato famine and long civil unrest up to the present, somewhat precarious, state of peace. The audience was invited to attend some unique rites of Irish culture including a wedding and a wake. This little “Irish Stew” was peppered with wonderful songs, dances and sketches from a very talented cast. In Act II various members of the Gilleece Family, including John, his three sons and his twin brother, Frank, led the audience in an old-fashioned Irish sing-a-long.

Several RAA members crossed the parking lot to join in the fun. Janet Brady, who has made many appearances on the stage of the RTC, lent her lovely voice to the sad story of “Sweet Molly Malone”. Postman Geoff Rawling entered on his scooter to deliver letters from home to new immigrants in Act I and then opened Act II as the Giant Leprechaun, MacNamara, performing a wild jig and leading the audience in a rousing chorus of MacNamara’s Band. Susan Hartenstein dropped by in her Mother Superior persona, (first introduced in the RTC production of Nunsense , this past June) and used her hilarious brogue in emceeing portions of the show. Of course RAA members also lent their talents to doing what they do best: The set, consisting of beautiful scenes of Ireland was designed by Geoff Rawling, James Cantirino and RTC’s own Frank Caiati. While the lovely artwork featured on the walls of the Post Theatre lobby was donated by artist, John Russo.

Performance art, however, was the province of RTC veterans like Hank Otero, Kevin Sweeney, Daniel Marston, Nancy Kelley and Sheila Finnegan who performed the haunting ballads “I’ll Take You Home again Kathleen”, “Fields of Athenry”, “Danny Boy” and “Galway Bay” respectively. Bernard Smith, a newcomer to the RTC, sang a beautiful Irish Air, “The May Morning Dew”, while young Caitlin Hynes sang the heartbreaking “Town I Loved So Well”. Returning to the stage after his debut in The King and I and his solo performance in Rockaway Café ’04, this past summer, was the youngest cast member, Connor Hubbard, who gave us a charming rendition of “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra”. Perhaps, the loveliest ballad of all was the “Irish Blessing” sung a cappella by Charles Rosa and the RTC Men’s Chorale.

But, ballads were certainly not the only offering on the menu. A great song and dance troupe consisting of Rona Prince, Hank Otero, Phyllis DePierro and the Gilleece Boys rendered a charming George M. Cohan medley which included “Give My Regards to Broadway”, “Harrigan”, “Mary” and “Grand Old Flag”. RTC veteran Kathy Murfitt gave us a rousing version of “A Nation Once Again” and Sal Trento, delivered the up-tempo ditty, “The Moonshiner”, a subject near and dear to his “Honorary Irish” heart. Kudos to brave audience members who came up on stage and did a wonderful job of singing “Drunken Sailor” proving that you can try this at home, even if you’re not a professional.

Last, but not least, the true highlights of this show must be mentioned: On Friday night dancers from the O’Malley Irish Dance Academy and on Saturday and Sunday, youngsters from the Acosta School of Irish Music and Dance awed audiences with incredible Irish step-dance routines in traditional costume. However, the piece de resistance, was the fabulous fresh Irish sodabread baked by RTC volunteers Tracy Hubbard and Cynthia Peithman of Cakeline, Inc. (Official Baker of the Rockaway Theatre Company) and sold to hungry audience members during the intermission.

A truly wonderful time was had by all. RTC lighting person Kristin Kearns told us, “My Irish Grandmother had the most wonderful evening. She said that she just traveled back to Ireland for two hours and it was a delightful journey” Sorry you missed it? Well don’t let it happen again… Call the RTC hotline 718-850-2450 now, to reserve your seats for their next big musical extravaganza, the USO style Salute to New York City, being presented on May 20, 21, 27 and 28th at 8 p.m. Tickets are already going quickly.

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