Well, the inaugural tour of Celtic Woman's Songs From The Heart wrapped up last night in Salt Lake City. It began in mid-February in Roanoke, Virginia. Weather could have prevented that from happening as snow was frequent and heavy.
I had the great blessing of having been able to go to Ireland to see the show recorded last summer. That too could have been a wash due to weather the first night. Funny but it seems these little rays of sunshine like to bring Irish weather with them. Perhaps a little Celtic Woman could cure drought in your area?! Anyway, back to it. The show I saw in Ireland was brilliant and so many of the avid supporters of this ensemble were very happy at what would now be preserved forever. David Downes is the creative spirit and genius behind each and every show. A one off night in the Helix late in 2004 has turned into a phenomenon. One could say they have never looked back yet they have if for no other reason than to see what an amazing journey it has been. Once more David has sought with this new show to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster. His endeavors have always been to give you something really big at times and intimate at others. He and this marvelous troupe of artists have never failed to do just that. OK, some are critical because it is a "show" with choreography and lights and glitz and such. So? I don't hear those criticisms of Riverdance or Lord Of The Dance. While it is a professionally packaged show it is also very much a personal one and there is no shortage of individual expression. Each night is subtly different from the other and is based upon the audience reactions and support as well as the mood of each artist involved. I have now attended 45 Celtic Woman shows and have never been disappointed in a performance.
So, what does this new show give you? Well, some twists on what you may see on TV or the DVD. You will not see Oh America in the touring show as the show is meant to travel the world. Song would not work elsewhere. You will also not see Pie Jesu even though it is in the program. You will not see Alex performing True Colors. Instead you will be treated to a beautiful song that fits her style and voice perfectly called My Heart Was Home Again. I found it incredibly moving and it is interspersed with the marvelous pipe playing of Tommy Martin. You will not see Slumber My Darling as the slow piece in Máiréad Nesbitt's slow/fast combo. Instead you are treated to one of the most stunning slow airs performed by anyone and that is her rendition of Last Rose Fantasia. That piece is led in by a lovely guitar solo by the amazing Des Moore. You also have new addition Anthony Byrne who is a world renown bagpipe player. He is very well represented in a lovely Irish piece that Chloe Agnew sings called Galway Bay. Then he will make an appearance through the audience later for Amazing Grace which is followed by the vocalists of the group singing it. This piece has been done so many times yet I have never heard a more beautiful rendition. It gets me very emotional to be sure. One other new addition is a coupled song that is Songs From The Heart. It begins with a slow and melancholy song called Walking The Night sung as a duet between Lynn Hilary and Alex Sharpe. Really beautiful and again very moving. Then Tommy transitions on pipes to an upbeat song called Give Me Your Hand. That song is a duet with Lisa Kelly and Chloe Agnew. The other two girls join in later and it ends on a very high note. All in one song David takes you from intimate and a bit sad to huge and joyful.
These artists are on the road the greatest part of every year. They spend that time on long road trips nearly every night in buses. Living in hotel rooms and away from home and family for months on end. They are supported by a great road crew. The scheduling is not all that well done and never really has been. That adds to fuel costs and travel stress and can shorten after show paid meet & greets as well as the artists' sleep cycles. Yet, when I saw the show in Spokane the other night they were as fresh and full of life as they were at the opener in Roanoke. The only difference is that the show is more polished now and nearly second nature to the folks performing it. One cannot appreciate the grind of such tours unless you experience it yourself. No artist or group in entertainment has toured more in the past five years than Celtic Woman. I doubt the artists are paid in a tour near what some of the sleazy pop divas get in a week. Yet there they are every night. Why? Well, it is what their fantastic drummer Ray Fean once said to some forum folks, "This is just what we do". They would be doing this at home on the street or in pubs for far less. It is simply what they were each born to do, and while they do need to make a living, I have never gotten the impression from any of them that it is about money.
So, what are the highlights of the show? Well, there are really a steady stream of them. But for me each solo or ensemble piece has a special place.
Alex Sharpe has grown on me so much since filling in for the then pregnant Lisa Kelly back in 2008. Her theatrical background is evident in her performances. Her eyes will grab you and the voice hold you. She does a great duet with marvelous percussionist Nick Bailey for the cover You'll Be In My Heart. By the way, it is his great percussion band, Extreme Rhythm, that you see on the DVD pounding away. But for Alex, the new song My Heart Was Home Again is a signature piece.
Chloe Agnew has grown up while with Celtic Woman having started at age 15 and now nearing 21. Her voice has gone from sweet and childlike to full and with great depth and power. She too has transitioned and is effectively the spokesperson for the group. Not only on stage and in interviews but also at the after show meetings Chloe steps in instantly to say what others may have difficulty saying. Chloe's rendition of Galway Bay brings across both pride and protest of the Irish nation. She also does the cover song When You Believe and belts it out better than anyone. In my book she owns the song now. On stage she is ever bubbly and full of life. How can she not charm?
Lisa Kelly has been there from day one and it helps when you are married to the CEO. Regardless of that she would still be there as David has found in her his voice and muse. Her signature piece, The Voice, is not in the show. It has been replaced by one from an American composer called The Moon's a Harsh Mistress. It is a very emotional piece accompanied with piano and with Máiréad on violin. It does not have the soaring long high notes of The Voice but is a worthy addition. She also does the cover Fields Of Gold and I sure like it much better than the individuals who did it before. Lisa is ever expressive and frequently interactive from the stage and a real delight and fan favorite for a great many.
Lynn Hilary comes off as a bit shy and demur. Well, be careful of the quiet ones! She does a pure vocals rendition of the Irish piece My Lagan Love which is sung with choir backing. That choir is shown off more than once in this new show and is excellent. No better showcase for that than the above mentioned piece. Lynn also does a song called Dulaman which is sung entirely in Irish and accompanied by Ray and Nick. It is a fun piece and Lynn's introduction to it shows her to be really very funny. That is another great addition to this show, and that are the verbal introductions that the girls make now and then to a song. They have to know that many of us could listen to them speak forever. I joke about handing them each a phone book to recite!
The ensemble pieces are marvelous. Nil Se'n La is a really fun frolic. Only thing that would make it better is to have them in their ceili dresses and barefoot. Non C'e Piu is a song set to Dworak's World Symphony. It leaves the room breathless until time to applaud and quite often in a standing position. Gorgeous. They continue with tradition as well doing You Raise Me Up. They added the second verse and it really is a group signature. The Call is another song that has every element in play including Máiréad's marvelous violin intro to it. Mo Ghile Mear still wraps up the second act and serves as the basis for the show finale. It is another one of those huge show moments that leaves you wanting more. That finale has been even more jazzed up by the full band jamming during part of it. Even the poker faced but excellent Eoghan O'Neill has fun with this one.
One last mention goes to what many of us see as the focal point of the show. She is the driving force, the one who sets the tone, the one I hear most frequent comments about at intermission and at the end of the show. Oh yes I pay very close attention to what folks are saying. The one I speak about of course is that feisty fairy with a fiddle, Máiréad Nesbitt. Certainly the externals are extremely important here as the costume and physical presence grab immediate attention. No one does what she does the way she does it though. She is an accomplished artist of the first order and this the latest in a series of great things she has been involved with. Yet while with Celtic Woman she also found time to do the music for the Tinker Bell movies and also a brilliant performance in Switzerland this past January where she and brother Karl were showcased. Máiréad makes a signature piece out of everything she does. Whether it is the saucy Coast Of Galicia with its Latin sway, Granuaile's Dance with its never ending energy, her slow fast combo of Last Rose and The Mason's Apron, or accompaniment in ensemble pieces, Máiréad is the heart and soul of the ensemble. It simply could not exist without her or attract the large audiences it does in my opinion. She is constantly interactive with her artist friends on stage and with her audience. Even when in the shadows she is part of the music and interacting in subtle ways. Some of what she does by necessity must be choreographed, yet the major input on that comes from her as she knows how a given piece will effect her movement. And my does she move! She does so at risk of injury and she has sustained them in the past yet has never missed a show from them. A consummate professional and performer, gifted artist, and yet as warm and genuine a person as you'll ever meet.
So, the spring tour ends and yet another one in the states from mid-July to mid-September looms. Then a short tour in Australia comes in late October. They have waited a long time for them in Oz and they will not be disappointed with the show that comes to them. This is a marvelous creation that will entertain, enchant, amuse at times, and take you on a really amazing two hour ride. It is well worth seeing in person and I certainly plan to attend many more of these shows. It never gets old. Until next time have a great summer.
All the best, Scott