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They’ve created a theater that actors love to work in. And that was reflected by the terrific array of actors (including assorted Tony and Drama Desk Award winners and nominees), who gathered at Town Hall to reprise numbers they’d performed at the Irish Rep over the past 35 years.

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In the theater world, many people talk about creating a sense of community.  Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly–who’ve run the Irish Repertory Theater since its founding 35 years ago–have done just that.

For 35 years, the Irish Repertory Theatre—co-founded and co-directed by Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly—has been a model of what an independent theater company can be. They’ve maintained consistently high standards, and many terrific artists have returned time and again to perform at their jewel box of a theater on 22nd Street.  

Moore and O’Reilly  were both successful actors before forming their own theater company. (Moore, in fact,  was nominated for a Tony Award  in 1974.) In contrast to many producers,  Moore and O’Reilly  were artists first.  And their theater has always attracted excellent artists, as well as  highly supportive audiences.  While many theater companies have been forced to sharply curtail operations since the start of the pandemic—and some, alas,  have folded—the Irish Rep has thrived.  Which is a great credit to their co-founders/co-directors.

Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly —

 I’m grateful  that I was able to witness the  all-star celebration of the Irish Rep this week at New York’s Town Hall on 43rd Street.  Great artists who’ve performed at the intimate Irish Repertory Theatre over the past 35 years gathered to share their gifts, backed by full orchestra and chorus.  Cavernous Town Hall  was jam-packed for this gala benefit concert.   (I was happy, incidentally,  to see that Judy Collins was among the audience members!)

I must stress that I’m not claiming to be some detached, objective reviewer today. There were people on that stage I’ve long loved working with. So, I’m more than a little bit  biased. But it was such a wonderful night, filled with so many rewards, I’d like to tell you a bit about what I experienced.

* * *

For me, it was thrilling watching Jon Peterson perform once again George M. Cohan’s “Hello Broadway!,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” and “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Jon’s singing, dancing, and choreography are electric; and I always respond to his brilliant, unusual  mix of showmanship and open-hearted emotionality.

Jon Peterson

Jon was reprising moments from a show that I wrote specifically for him some years ago, “George M. Cohan Tonight!’ And although  many actors have successfully done that show since we first premiered it at the Irish Rep (Adam Biner is currently starring in a production at Florida’s Winter Park Playhouse), I’ve never seen anyone equal Jon’s performance.  And it was exciting  to see him reprise that role once again.

Bill Irwin–whom I don’t know, but wish I did; I’ve long admired his artistry–brought his unique elfin charm to the stage. He offered a bit of soft-shoe with his irresistible mix of grace, wit, and charm. His understated brand of showmanship is much different from the razzle-dazzle entertaining style of Jon Peterson (of whom Irwin spoke of appreciatively during his turn onstage)– but both draw from the best of old-time vaudeville and music-hall traditions. And both perform with mastery.

Bill Irwin

Irwin has  starred in a two shows at the Irish Rep, and is scheduled to return to the Rep for a third show this year.   He’s an extraordinarily versatile artist.  In 1995, you may recall, he won the Tony Award as best actor for his performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf.”  He’s also been nominated for Tony Awards for his work as a playwright, director, and choreographer.  And he’s just as widely admired for his abilities as a clown as he is for his abilities as a dramatic actor.

In his Town Hall performance, Irwin had me right from his first easygoing, impish steps onto the stage.  And when he tossed his hat up into the air, catching it perfectly with his head, I was grinning ear to ear.

Melissa Errico reprised beautifully  numbers (by    Burton Lane and E. Yip Harburg)  from the classic musical “Finian’s Rainbow.” I remember fondly seeing  Errico  star in productions of “Finian’s Rainbow” (adapted by Charlotte Moore)  at the Irish Rep in both 2004 and again in 2016; and they were two of the best productions I’ve ever seen at that theater–which is saying plenty. I found her delightful, too,  in the Irish Rep’s memorable production of “On a Clear Dy You Can See Forever.”  And all of the shows she’s done at the Rep have enjoyed extended runs.

I love that warm soprano voice of hers. She’s been one of my favorite sopranos since I first saw her co-starring in Broadway productions of “My Fair Lady” (with Richard Chamberlain) and “High Society” (with Stephen Bogardus) more than a quarter-century ago.  And she followed those shows with  her Tony-nominated performance on Broadway in “Amour.”

Melissa Errico

 It was a joy for me  to see/hear Melissa Errico  again. She’s just so natural.  I love the way she lands on notes so effortlessly, sounding almost conversational as she sings buoyant songs like “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and “Follow the Fellow Who Follows a Dream.”

Errico is  one of the artists most closely  associated with the Irish Rep–one of the faces of the Irish Rep, if you will.  She’s done some of her best work there.   And, I might add,  she happens to be 100% Italian-American! The Irish Rep, I’m happy to note, has been into diversity and inclusion long before those concepts became popular.

 If we needed additional proof of that fact, another of the Irish Rep’s stars, Shereen Ahmed (whom I first took notice of when I saw her as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” at Lincoln Center and who also impressed in the Irish Rep’s special pandemic edition of “Meet Me in St. Louis”) happens to be Arabic-American! She’s just terrific whether playing a Cockney flower-girl or an Irish-American girl in love with the boy next door.

Shereen Ahmed

At Town Hall,  she sang “The Trolley Song” with brio. She’ll be seen in “Titanic” at City Center next, and in “Nine” at the Kennedy Center.

I enjoyed very much the easy-rolling sense of swing  that Angela Grovey and Kyle Taylor-Parker brought to the  stage, reprising moments from “Finian’s Rainbow.”  I loved the relaxed power they projected and the  wonderful sense of ownership of the material that they had.

Angela Grovey

A special shout-out must go to DeLaney Westfall, who stepped in at the last minute to fill in for Jenny Powers, who’d injured her back.  Westfall (from the cast of “Sweeney Todd”) was excellent.

Kyle Taylor Parker

And gave her all! She also happens to be eight-months pregnant! But she’s clearly a trouper, and her performance was certainly memorable.

DeLaney Westfall

It was a treat hearing Danielle Ferland, who in 1987 originated the role of “Little Red Riding Hood” in Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” offer us “Old Friends” from Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.”  There’s character in her voice, and there’s individuality.  And she sang that emotionally rich song with understanding.

Emma Camp, who’s done assorted Irish Rep shows—she’s been their go-to gal since the pandemic started, the quintessential understudy who became a star —performed with panache.

  David Lutken conjured up the homespun, unaffected essence of Woody Guthrie, singing—and getting us all to join in—on “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”

I don’t have the time or space here to comment–although I wish I could–on everyone who performed at the gala–including Ciaran Sheehan, Ben Davis, Nicholas Barasch, Kerry Conte,  Ali Ewoldt,  Gary Troy. That full orchestra, conducted by Gary Adler, sounded great. Tom Cashin, who danced with zest in shows like “Riverdance” and “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” decades ago, received a special award.

The recently deceased writer/actor Malachy McCourt, who long was an important part of the Irish Rep family (as was his late brother, Frank McCourt), was given a final musical send-off.

The night offered plenty of rich, honest sentiment.  And Moore and O’Reilly made abundantly clear their appreciation for all who’ve been part of the theatrical community they helped create.

Dancer/choreographer Barry McNabb—whose association with the Irish Rep goes back some 30 years—was the night’s “Artistic Honoree,” being recognized for his life’s work.  Tony Award-winner Maryann Plunkett (currently appearing on Broadway in “The Notebook”)  introduced him.  He got some of the night’s biggest, warmest laughs, as he spoke freely, honestly about his life.  I loved the way he shared that when he came out as a gay man, his mother—who was puzzled as to how that could have come about—asked him innocently: “Was it the Irish step-dancing?”

In 1988, when Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly announced their plans to establish the Irish American Theatre, they said their goals were “to bring works by Irish and Irish American masters and contemporary playwrights to American audiences, to provide a context for understanding the contemporary Irish American experience, and to encourage the development of new works focusing on the Irish and Irish American experience, as well as a range of other cultures.”  They’ve done all of that, and much more.

In the theater world, people often talk about creating a sense of community.  Moore and O’Reilly are two producers/directors who’ve done just that.  They’ve set the tone for the Irish Rep since they dreamed it up some 35 years ago.  It’s a welcoming place.  They’ll mix timeless classics with works by new writers.  They’ll program celebrations of, say, LBGTQ artists, or emerging playwrights of color, with a terrific spirit of inclusiveness that they’ve projected from the start.

 And the theater’s plucky, can-do attitude reflects the enthusiastic  way its founders/directors look upon life.  They give artists all of the encouragement, support, and tough love they might need.  (And I speak from personal experience here.)

 When the pandemic forced every theater in New York to shut down, there was a lot of hand-wringing in New York.   Theater companies wondered how they could survive; there were bills to pay and there was no income coming in.  The Irish Rep, in contrast to most theater companies,  continued to regularly create theater—offering pay-per-view livestream productions throughout the pandemic.  The show must go on, they decided—and it did.  Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O’Reilly have got a zest for life I find inspiring.

Last week, a young actor asked me if I could help him prepare for an audition.  I did the best I could.  But I wish he could have seen this gala.  I wish he could bring to an audition even one-half of the wonderful, irrepressible energy that Charlotte Moore–who’s old enough to be his grandmother–projected on stage. It’s good to be around that kind of energy.

 It was a terrific night.  And it speaks  well for the Irish Rep and its founders that so many fine artists came back to help them celebrate 35 years’ worth of shows.

I wish them many more years!


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