The buzz of the packed audience in the Convention Centre died down, as the lights dimmed. In a dim blue light we could see two towers of percussion, and we waited. And waited. Then an unamplified voice from the tower called out "Does anyone know any jokes?" and there was good-natured banter between audience and drummer until, suddenly, we had sound, and the show began.
In fairness, that was the one and only technical glitch in a show that had been stage-managed and choreographed to within an inch of its life, to bring razamataz, pizaaz and high production values to cross-over, pop, and Celtic music and package it into a highly commercial product.
It is no accident that Celtic Woman is a concept created by one of the architects of "Riverdance" and, entirely appropriately, some of the aspects of that show carry over – the high energy dancing, the multi-coloured lighting, the uilleann pipes and the almost constant movement.
And, mostly it works very well. Celtic Woman are celebrating their tenth year, and we have to expect changes. Two of the original singers were in the performance, and one replacement.
Mairead Nesbitt, to the delight of the audience, was to the fore. She is the lithe, long legged dancing violinist, who breathes fire and life into everything she touches. Celtic Woman would not be the same without her, and her violin, sometimes challenging, sometimes haunting, sometimes imbued with a manic energy. What she does is, on the face of it, nearly impossible and the audience responded to her passion and her skill.
Highlights of the evening? Perhaps "the usual supects" like Danny Boy and Amazing Grace. But the silence in the auditorium was palpable when they sang
On the first day of January, Eighteen Ninety-Two,
They opened Ellis Island and they let the people through. and the first to cross the threshold
of that Isle Of Hope And Tears,
was Annie Moore from Ireland
who was only fifteen years.
Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears,
Isle of Freedom, Isle of Fear,
but it's not the Isle you left behind.
that Isle of Hunger, Isle of Pain,
Isle you'll never see again
but the Isle of Home is always on your mind.
Songs of exile and of immigration have always touched a nerve in the Irish psyche, and this melodic haunting song was no exception.
The backing musicians deserve honourable mention – particularly the two person percussion section, each in charge of a small mountain of equipment – ranging from bodhrans, and timpanis to lambeg drums.
Making "Nella Fantasia" (the song by Morriconne from The Mission) one of the most memorable of the evening was the treatment – the singer perfectly still, with her clear beautiful voice letting the song speak for itself – and the acoustic guitarist playing the melody as I have never before heard it played.
Unforgettable, and for this reviewer the highlight of the evening.
The show ended with the "Parting Glass", with musicians, dancers, backing singers and Celtic Women all singing, together with pipes and drums
Of all the money that e'er I had
I spent it in good company
And all the harm I've ever done
Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be to you all
[Chorus] So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate'er befalls
And gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all
And as we left, we agreed that the show had been "great craic".
Celtic Woman 10th Anniversary Tour
Fri 11 Sep
Gold Coast Convention & Exhibition Centre, Broadbeach, Gold Coast, QLD Sat 12 Sep
Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre, Brisbane, QLD Sun 13 Sep
Empire Theatre, Toowoomba, QLD Tue 15 Sep
TRECC, Tamworth, NSW Wed 16 Sep
Newcastle Civic Theatre, Newcastle, NSW Fri 18 Sep
Qantas Credit Union Arena (formerly Sydney Entertainment Centre), Sydney, NSW Sat 19 Sep
Royal Theatre, Canberra, ACT Sun 20 Sep
Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne, VIC Tue 22 Sep
Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide, SA Fri 25 Sep
Perth Arena, Perth, WA