Frank McCourt`s charming show“The Irish and How They Got That Way” leads off with the statement that the Irish are a Musical race.
And so they are..with countless ballads, jigs, reels and refrains. However, what has been lacking is a Broadway style musical celebrating that culture. Only two stage successes come to mind..the Hollywoodish “Finian`s Rainbow” in 1948 (film 1968) and the Tony awards sweep of “Once” in 2011(based on film 2007).
Now Montreal`s LISA FORGET aims to fill that gap. She has originated book, lyrics and music of a production called “Danny Boy” inspired by the most popular of Irish songs.
The ubiquitous CHRIS BARILLARO provided lyrics, music and fine musical arrangements. Directed by JONATHAN PATTERSON, a talented cast of 12 put on a one night premiere in a workshop production.
This was sponsored by the St. Patrick`s Society and held in the spacious Theatre Paradoxe (a converted church).
I would attend anything involving KATHLEEN McAULIFFE or PIERRE LENOIR and here were both, playing the secondary plot as two older friends. The primary plot features a young couple, STEPHEN INGRAM as Daniel Gallagher, soon off to fight in World War I, and BRIANNA CAITLYN PALMERas Molly Murphy, an Irish born but Canadian raised nursing student returning to visit her aunt (Ms. McAuliffe) for the summer.
Auntie, it turns out, is, shades of “Hello Dolly”, the local matchmaker and the annual matchmaking dance is about to take place. Two excellent Irish dancers enlivened these scenes. This all takes place in Derry and one of the 30 original songs in the show is indeed “County Derry” which portends becoming another Irish place song standard like “Galway Bay” and the fictional “Glocka Morra”.
The second act grows darker as the lads of the Irish Regiment march off to France to face mud and trenches. It is estimated there were 200,000 such Irish enlistees or draftees of which 50,000 died. The glories of fighting For King and Country were lampooned in Shaw`s one act “O`Flaherty, V.C.” and Littlewood`s “Oh, What a Lovely War”.
Any way, Danny does survive just in time to return, as in the song, to bid farewell to his expiring mother PAULA WOLFSON.
The organizers managed to assemble not only the five excellent principal actor-singers mentioned above, but seven talented others who portray some 22 characters.
The fully packed house applauded wildly, once again showing that you don`t need extravagant sets and dazzling costumes if you have an interesting script and superb performers.
Check out the show`s website as it advances toward a full production www.dannyboymusical.weebly.com
Photo credit: “Danny Boy” rehearsal photo by Ali Barillaro