Praise the Lord

A technical appraisal of Michael Flatley’s famous production

Photo: Brian Doherty

There are few shows on the Strip these days that feature actual dancing. The newest Broadway import, The Lion King, features choreography that is all about the costumes and sets, and is a servant to Julie Taymor’s artistic vision, suggesting a campus visit to Movement for Actors 101. Not at all satisfying, but at least it is a smidge better than the organized walking that passes for dance in the latest Cirque shows (which is odd given the annual collaboration between Cirque and Nevada Ballet Theatre—the talent is there, it’s just unused).

This climate makes the return to Las Vegas of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance a welcome change from these overstaged, under-choreographed spectacles. Loosely held together by its Irish folklore-based, good-versus-evil plot, the show revolves around Irish step dancing and its modern variations. There are no forays into other dance forms; Lord of the Dance operates within a narrow aesthetic, and believes in it wholeheartedly.

The Details

From the Calendar
Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance
Four stars
Through August 16
Tuesday-Thursday, 7 & 9 p.m.; Friday, 4 & 7 p.m.; Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.
Steve Wyrick Theatre at Miracle Mile Shops, 777-9974.

Top dancers from the European and North American tours have been brought together for the Las Vegas show. The talent pool here is so deep that there are four sets of leads, who rotate equally. For the reviewed performance, Ronan McCuthcheon (Lord of the Dance), Sarah Lennon (Good Girl), Tom Cunningham (Dark Lord) and Aisling Murphy (Bad Girl) handled the technically difficult assignments well.

While the leads are good, however, the show comes into its own with the ensemble work. Whether in the more balletic variations for the women or in the driving, percussive work for the men and combined corps, the dancers approach the choreography with a conviction not often seen on any stage.

The group dances also take advantage of their seemingly repetitive quality. As in musical works by Bach or Philip Glass, the patterns change slightly with each successive section, using these variations to delve deeper into the rhythmic sequences. Through this structure, the intensity of the performance increases to a high-energy conclusion that generally brings the audience to its feet.

These intense aerobic workouts do call for breaks in the dancing. Vocalist Diedre Shannon and fiddle players Guida Costenaro and Mark Hennessey keep the performance on track between the dance sections. Although the show would benefit from more live music, the pre-recorded score provides a satisfactory accompaniment. An unusual twist to this, however, is the pre-recorded percussion that is added to enhance the overall effect of the regimented and synchronized tapping. This now seems to be a theatrical norm, as it is an integral part of Broadway’s Billy Elliot and 42nd Street. It is not necessary in such a small theater.

In most of its touring incarnations, the show plays in large arenas. For this engagement, Las Vegas audiences have the rare opportunity to experience the performance in the intimate Steve Wyrick Theatre, a comfortable, 425-seat venue. Costume details, facial expressions, the Celtic-inspired set and dance steps are clearly visible from each seat, keeping the audience engaged in a personal way generally missing from larger settings.

The 70-minute show—scheduled to run in Las Vegas only until August 16—is a great bargain (one of the few Strip productions with ticket prices under $60) and an uncommon antidote in a town overrun with Cirque shows. Don’t miss it.


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