Toronto was the first city to welcome the North American tour of "Heartbeat of Home," a new music and dance revue by the team responsible for the international sensation "Riverdance." Yet Chicago can at least boast about being the first U.S. city to host the new show, which launched last October in Dublin.
"I've always found Chicago audiences to be very perceptive and responsive," said "Heartbeat of Home" director John McColgan, reflecting on how Chicago embraced "Riverdance," which is currently on a 20th anniversary tour of Europe. "I'm looking forward to the people of Chicago seeing it."
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"Heartbeat of Home"Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 755-2000, broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: March 4 to 16; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, March 9); 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (also Wednesday, March 12)
Just what Chicago audiences will see in "Heartbeat of Home" is a glossy and athletic dance revue that shows the impact that "Riverdance" has had on spreading Irish culture globally and how the Irish themselves have diversified.
"Twenty years ago, Irish dancers were almost exclusively Irish dancers and they could not have contemplated doing or getting involved in Latin or tango or salsa or street dancing," McColgan said. "Now they can because a lot of these kids, many of whom were just born or weren't even born when 'Riverdance' started, have trained in different disciplines ... so they're a different breed of dancers."
"Heartbeat of Home" not only depicts the Diaspora of Irish culture around the world, but also shows how Irish dancing has melded with other cultural influences in lands far from the Emerald Isle. This is reflected in the international makeup of the ensemble, which is about 30 dancers strong with 10 musicians from countries like Spain, Italy, Mexico and more.
"There are two girls from Australia where their father is Venezuelan and their mother is French, there's a guy from Denver whose mother is African-American and his father's Caucasian, and there's a kid with Vietnamese parents from Canada, so the world of Irish dancers inspired young dancers to do that," said McColgan. "I'm also proud to say we have Afro-Cuban dancers, Latin dancers and Spanish flamenco dancers, so we have a real mix and we're very lucky with our reputation in auditions that we could choose some of the best dancers from around the world."
In addition to its multicultural cast, "Heartbeat of Home" features a score written by composer Brian Byrne ("Albert Nobbs," "In America") with lyrics and a connecting narrative by novelist Joseph O'Connor ("Star of the Sea," "The Thrill of it All").
McColgan is happy so far with the overwhelmingly positive audience and critical response that has already greeted "Heartbeat of Home" in Ireland, China and Canada, and he hopes that Chicago will continue the trend for the tour's American leg. And that's despite some unhappy memories tied to "The Pirate Queen," a musical backed by many "Riverdance" producers that tried out in Chicago in 2006 before it later flopped on Broadway.
"Nobody ever sets out to do a show that doesn't work," McColgan said. "We put our heart and soul into it, but that's the high risk of the entertainment business."
McColgan and other "Heartbeat of Home" creative team members are planning to be in Chicago for its American opening.
"It's been an extraordinary adventure," McColgan said. "I'm very lucky that the show has landed as well as it has."