Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Chieftains, Riverside Theatre

On Thursday, March 8, we had tickets to see The Cheiftains at the Riverside Theatre in downtown Milwaukee. Although the venerable Irish group was a regular fixture at Milwaukee's summer Irish Fest, that hasn't happened for several years. Instead, they have lately hit town as part of their annual tour, usually around St.Patrick's day. (This year ON St. Patrick's Day they were playing some other low dive--Carnegie Hall--.)

The four surviving members of the band, Sean Keane, Matt Molloy, Kevin Conneff and Paddy Moloney, were accompanied by a number of "guests," three of whom sat in and performed as part of the group all evening. These were Triona Marshall, the notable Irish harpist, ably filling in for the late Derrick Bell, Jon Pilatzke doulbing on second fiddle and dancing, and keyboardist Jeff White. Champion dancer Cara Butler joined Jon and his brother Nathan Pilatzke as the show's lead dancers. The Chieftains were also joined by Liadan, an all-female Irish group, formed at the University where the Chieftains have been artists in residence. When all the musicians were playing on stage, it was a veritable Irish orchestra, including pipes, two harps, keyboard, whistle, four fiddles, two flutes, bodhran, and accordion. (Liadan consists of Síle Denvir, harpist; Deirdre Chawke, piano accordion; Valerie Casey and Claire Dolan, fiddles; Sarah-Jane Woods, flute; Elaine Cormican, whistles.) As an obligatory local touch, some members of the Cashel-Dennehey dance school also got to share the stage for a couple of numbers.

A note on dancing: while I respect and admire the Irish dancers, espeically those of champion caliber such as accompany the Chieftains, I am a bit put off by the following scenario which uniformly occurs: band has been playing full-out virtuoso music for a good four minutes: dancer comes out, and gives thirty seconds of flying feet: thunderous applause. While the dancer is in the nature of a soloist, nevertheless, it seems they get more and louder applause than musical solos of equivalent brilliance. Now, with the Chieftains, this changed as the night went on and the audience warmed up, but it still seems a bit undiscerning on the part of audiences.

That said, the dancers were also worthy of all the applause they got. Cara Butler is just a beautiful dancer in all senses, and her joy in her art is evident. The Pilatzkes added some interesting nuances, in that besides the Flatley-style Irish dance that has been the vogue, they also do a Canadian variant of step dancing that is a looser, more mobile style (imagine Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett doing Irish dance), as well as classical American tap dancing. The difference between tap and "Lord of the Dance" is subtle, but discernible, and I believe has much to do with where the weight is placed and what part of the foot hits the floor when, so far as I could see.

As far as seeing goes, the Riverside is a nicely renovated Vaudeville house, that has become one of Milwaukee's major venues for travelling music groups. The small or quirky groups tend to go to the Pabst, and the Broadway road companies now go to the "Milwaukee Theatre," (formerly the Arena). The Riverside renovation was a centerpiece of an attempt at downtown revitalization in the late 80's and was nicely done. The sight lines are very good. Much was made of replacing the old seating with newer, wider seats at the time, but the theatre's very steep rake still means there's not much knee room between rows. In order to make the business viable, the developers insisted on, and obtained a liquor license, which means that there are bars on each level in the European fashion. However, they do not close down during performance, and I don't believe that they do the European style thing of taking advance drink orders during the interval. When you combine this with the theater policy that they DO seat latecomers once the performance is started, meant that for the first three numbers of the show, and to a lesser extent after the break, there was a more-or-less steady stream of ushers and latecomers, many bearing drinks in hand, filing in, which I found rather annoying. Admittedly this was a Thursday night, after work date, and the Chieftains may well draw people from far away, but I did not see any excuse for people being that late to the performance since the weather was not bad.

Bit, all in all , that was a minor irritant. The Chieftains and all their guests were in very fine form, and when they are the best in the world at what they do, that is saying much.
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