Growing up, Irish step dancing was a staple in my elementary and middle school talent shows. Every year, there would be at least one girl wearing a wig with tight red ringlet curls, a green dress with a Celtic pattern and black shoes with white knee-high socks.
Rockin’ Road to Dublin wasn’t like that, though, and I could tell that before the show began.
I had only ever been to Hall Auditorium for lectures, for which the stage was bare except for a podium and maybe a screen for a slideshow in the back (crazy, I know).
But on Saturday, April 21, speakers were stacked on either side of the stage. Two sets of elevated stands were arranged in the back for the musicians and their instruments — drum kits at the top, guitars and violins on the lower platform. The backdrop featured a giant drawing of a Celtic knot and a row of spotlights hung by the ceiling lit everything up in blue.
As the lights dimmed, a disembodied voice made an announcement warning the audience about the use of strobe lights and haze.
With that, I knew I was in for something completely different than my classmates step dance on the small stage in my elementary school gymnasium.
Co-creators Scott Doherty and Chris Smith started working on the show seven years ago. Both have backgrounds in show business — Doherty is the 2009 Men’s World Champion of Irish Dance and has toured in Riverdance. Smith has performed in shows at Busch Gardens, Williamsburg and toured with The American Rogues, one of the top Celtic rock bands. In addition to their role behind the scenes, they perform as the lead dancer and lead percussionist in the show, respectively.
They were driven by the hope to create something that had never been done before — a fusion of Irish dancing and rock and roll in a show with live music, dancing and singing.
“What we’ve done is take the best parts of an Irish dancing show and the best parts of a rock concert and formed them together into one entity,” Smith said. “You have all the pieces from both genres in one world. We take traditional Irish dancing and added this rock and roll element of a live band and a rock concert feel. It’s got a little something for everyone, whether you want dancing or singing, or just music alone.”
The show opened with a sweet duet between the male and female lead dancers, Doherty and Ashley Smith-Wallace. She was wearing an airy white dress that floated around her as she danced. It was the only time anyone wore any color other than black. It was a boy-meets-girl, love-at-first-sight scene.
And then, Doherty ripped his long-sleeved shirt off, revealing a fitted, black muscle tank.
The male lead singer emerged wearing a leather vest and snug leather pants. The electric guitars cut in. Instead of light fiddle tunes, the dancers stepped along to strong drum beats and guitar riffs.
The cast of Rockin’ Road to Dublin is comprised of 36 people, including 14 dancers, two singers, eight musicians and 12 crew members.
The act’s focus shifted from dance to instruments to singing.
An emotional duet cover of “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane was accompanied by a kiss shared by the pair of vocalists at the end of the song. The kiss gave me reason to believe that their relationship might extend beyond the stage, but I can’t say for sure.
A musical number showcased solos from the violin players, one wearing a cowboy hat and the other wearing lacy fishnet tights under a pair of black jean shorts.
A playful dance number involved a group of male dancers trying to woo the female dancers with their moves. The female performers played hard to get, but I was shamelessly impressed with their ability to jump and land as if they were weightless and create rhythms by shuffling their feet across the stage, all while keeping their upper body relatively motionless.
Some acts combined all three elements, such as the vocalists singing a medley of classic rock favorites, including “Any Way You Want It” by Journey, “Back in Black” by ACDC and “Baba O’Riley” by The Who, with the crew of dancers stepping to the music.
“The biggest thing behind this is that it’s a show for everyone,” Smith said. “I know everyone always says that, but we literally have dancing, singing, music, we have soft numbers, heavy numbers, we have everything you could possibly want so people from 5 up to 70 will enjoy it and all leave happy and get something out of it, and we’re excited that we can do that for people.”
The show’s demographic truly was anywhere between 5 to 70, if not broader. College students wearing Miami sweatshirts, parents tugging along children in pastel-colored dresses and polo shirts and older couples in sweater vests and floral blouses made up the sold out crowd.
After the final act, everyone stood up, clapping and smiling.
Smith doesn’t have any groundbreaking message that he wants to send. He simply wants the audience to be entertained.
“We’re not trying to change the world, we’re not trying to push any boundaries, we’re just trying to let people have two hours of a lot of fun,” Smith said. “You get to watch great dancing by world-champion dancers, you get to listen to some great music, you just get to leave happy.”