‘Woody Sez’ will break your heart and lift your spirits

How it’s New York: “Woody Sez” takes place at Irish Repertory Theatre, one of the city’s best residential theatres. Guthrie

David M. Lutken plays Woody Guthrie in “Woody Sez.” ©Carol Rosegg.

influenced the Clancy Brothers and Christy Moore. Andy Irvine, of Planxty, has a wonderful song tribute to Guthrie in his “Never Tire of the Road.”
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Woody Guthrie was of Scots descent, and his mother sang old ballads to him. The show has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and in Belfast.

Listen to our podcast with David M. Lutken here!

Somewhere during the thrilling performance of “Woody Sez” at Irish Rep I began to feel depressed.

When did the working man stop believing in unions? When did labor throw in with management? How did this happen? Would Guthrie, whose guitar had “this machine fights fascists” on it, be dismissed as “Antifa” today?

There has hardly been a rally this year that didn’t close (or open) with Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Maybe, like me, you learned the song in kindergarden (along with “If I Had a Hammer,” written by Pete Seeger, a long-time collaborator of Guthrie’s). Maybe you forgot this song was composed by a 20th-Century American.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), the subject of the devised musical byby David M. Lutken with Nick Corley and Darcie Deaville, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein, is considered the father of American folk-music. Rightly so. His music, which chronicled the Dust Bowl years in particular and fought Fascism, had an impact on not only folk singers but also rock singers.

“Woody Sez” at Irish Rep is already on my Top 10 list. It is one of the best shows of the year.

I know, the year’s not over. This show will not be edged out of Top 10. It will probably stay in Top 3. Hell, it may stay at the top.

It was meant to end in June, but it kept extending. It now will end on Sept. 10. You can still see it: hurry up!


Podcast #38: Wils Wilson on ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart;’ ‘Narcan’

How it’s New York: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart was a big hit Off-Broadway. “Narcan” played at Irish Screen America and at the Manhattan Film Festival.   rssheadphones1
How it’s Irish and Scottish: Jim Halpin, of “Narcan,” is from Limerick (he played young Malachy in “Angela’s Ashes.”)
“The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” is by Scottish playwright David Grieg, presented by The National Theatre of Scotland and the McKittrick Hotel (home of “Sleep No More.”)

We spoke to director Wils Wilson about the brilliant and unforgettable Scottish immersive drama “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,”a campfire pub play if there ever was one, with brilliance running through each line like water inside a snowflake. Alice Farrell spoke to Peter Halpin, star of the short film “Narcan,” which may turn into a feature film Stay tuned.

Featured tune is from Annie Grace’s “The Bell.” Annie was in the cast of  “Prudencia” when we attended. We think she has a voice to rival Dolores Keane and were sorely tempted to end with two of her songs.

Up the Scots! Celebrate Burns Night

How it’s New York: Thomas Burt is a New York lawyer, and the Iona Sessions take place in Brooklyn.
Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait by Alexander Naysmith

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Robert Burns is Scotland’s favorite son, and symbolizes Scottish heritage. See below for Robert Burns songs sung by Jim Malcolm and the late Andy M. Stewart with Silly Wizard (with the late Johnny Cunningham, Phil Cunningham, Martin Hadden and Gordon Jones, filmed in 1988). Just try not crying when Andy M. sings it.

Trust me. You know a few poems by Robert Burns. What do you sing on New Year’s Eve? “Auld Lang Syne.” That was his. “My luv is like a…” if you’re thinking “red, red rose,” you’re right, and that was his, too. “The best laid plans of mice and men…” also his.

The “Bard of Ayrshire,” who wrote in broad Scots in the 18th century, has become over the years the national symbol of Scotland.

The Irish have Bloomsday, which celebrates James Joyce and “Ulysses.”

The Scots have Burns Night, which celebrates Robert Burns (1759-1796) in a formal dinner, complete with recitations, music, and, of course, Haggis.

There are fewer Scots than Irish in NYC, and as lawyer Thomas Burt points out, the Scots have been very good at assimilating. They are harder to spot, but they are here.

“It’s a focal point to remind us who we are, and what we have in common with each other.”

Burt is also secretary of St. Andrew’s Society of the State of New York, founded in 1756, before Burns was even born. He points out that past members include Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Carnegie. The society raises money for two children’s hospitals, provides scholarships for graduate study and more.   There’s also a Scottish Bar Association of New York.

Irish pubs are everywhere, true, but there are some Scottish pubs in NYC and Brooklyn: St. Andrews, 140 West 46th St.,  Caledonia Bar, 1609 Second Ave.,  are a few. More are listed here.

And the wonderful, amazing, BEST THING ON NEW YORK STAGE “The Strange Undoing of Pruedencia Hart,” which comes to the McKittrick Hotel courtesy of the Scottish National Theatre, with script by David Grieg, has just been extended until March 26th. The show, set in a Scottish pub,  includes free drams, Scottish music and a wonderful retelling of a “woman meets the devil” folk tale– in rhyme!  (this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in the theatre. Review/podcast has been delayed thanks to a cold that lasted pretty much all December and January but believe me when I say you do not want to miss this show).

IONA Burns-3There’s even a Scottish music session: the Iona Session is held on Mondays at Iona,  180 Grand St., in Brooklyn. And they are having a Burns Night celebration, too:

The IONA BURNS NIGHT returns in all it’s shaggy glory next Wednesday 25th January at 9pm. Fiddler Emerald Rae and piper Andrew Forbes will unleash the musical beasts. Poetry, comedy, haggis and cheap adult beverages will flow. JR StraussMax CarmichaelAmy LynnCalum MichaelMatt DiazPamela Jean AgaloosMiguel Coias and Karen Brown in the house. Crying and screaming permitted. Also dancing and laughing.

The Burns Society of the City New York was founded in 1871, and is still going strong. It’s a great resource for anyone wanting to throw their own Burns supper, Burt says. It has a supper, and so does the American Scottish Foundation.

But what is a Burns Night (Burns Nicht) supper, anyway?  It celebrates the poet’s life, and the history of the Scots, and is held around his birthday: Jan. 25.

“It’s a rallying point for a diaspora that is hard pressed to find rallying points,” Burt says. “We assimilate out of existence into the economic and power structure of anywhere we land.”


Murray Defeated Dimitrov In R4 Of US Open – Then Why Did The Scot Clutch Her Head?

September 7, 2016 - Andy Murray in action against Kei Nishikori in a men's quarterfinal match during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Andrew Murray at the US Open (Courtesy of Garrett Elwood/USTA)

How it’s New York: This article covers a Men’s Round 4 (“R4”) at the US Open, which took place in Flushing, Queens.
How it’s Irish: Celtic – Andrew Murray, the No. 2-seeded player representing Great Britain, is Scottish!

At the US Open R4 Monday night, I saw Andrew Murray (Great Britain) get his own back from Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) – who had beat out Murray in the Miami Open this spring.


And Murray took control with his serves, firing off a personal-best, 141-mph serve that had commentator John McEnroe jumping out of his chair. 

…firing off a personal-best, 141-mph serve that had commentator John McEnroe jumping out of his chair.

“I did go up in [racket string] tension a little bit from the last match. Maybe that allowed me to feel like I was able to swing a little bit harder.” (Which also explains why Dimitrov halted the game to have his racket restrung.) Murray added, “I didn’t give him an opportunity, once I was ahead, to let him back in the match.”

September 7, 2016 - Andy Murray in action against Kei Nishikori in a men's quarterfinal match during the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY.

Andrew Murray at the US Open (courtesy of Garrett Elwood/USTA)


Podcast #33: Conor Lovett and Mike Farragher

How it’s (New Jersey) New York: The production of “Waiting for Godot” is taking place at the NYU Skirball Center; Mike Farragher lives in New Jerseyrssheadphones1
How it’s (Scottish) Irish: Samuel Beckett was Irish, as are Judy Hegarty Lovett and Conor Lovett of Gare St. Lazare Theatre; Mike Farragher is Irish-American. Featured tune is from Iona Scottish Session, a Scottish session in Brooklyn.

We spoke to Conor Lovett about the Gare St. Lazare production of “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett at the NYU Skirball Center. For our money, Gare St. Lazare are the best interpreters of Beckett in the world. Alice Farrell spoke to Irish-American author Mike Farragher about his new book, “A Devilish Pint.” 

Tune of the week is “Mary Kelly’s,” from the Iona Session CD “Island Wild.” Iona Session are havig a CD release party at Jalopy in Brooklyn on Oct. 30. For more information, visit Ionascottishsession.com (more…)

From the Temple to the Sanctuary

How it’s New York: Carnegie Hall!

©Jim McGuire
©Jim McGuire

How it’s Irish: John Joe Kelly was on stage with his bodhran

“Welcome to this temple of music” were the first words spoken on stage, after an opening set, at Carnegie Hall by Zakir Hussain at his Pulse of the World: Celtic Connections performance, Saturday March 28, 2015. Those words aptly set the tone for the next solid two hours of music played in celebration of the musical chops represented on stage.
In deference to the coy young musician who happened to be sitting by my side during the performance, I shall write this review without using the words “fusion,” “journey’,”or “quest.” That established, Hussain introduced the concert by speaking of how where he was from in India, the temple was the focal center point of every village, and from there, music graced the festivals, parades, traditions, ceremonies and daily life. Hussain spoke of how he remembered hearing, as a child, a different sound from a group of musicians from an area that had been settled, decades earlier, by soldiers from the colonizing British Empire.

After their military duties being done for the day, some of the visiting soldiers must have pulled out instruments and played, either on their own with their melodies and rhythms being overheard by the locals, or with some local musicians joining in… and way back then, pre-tv, internet, globalization… tunes were shared and probably friendships formed, and the seeds of this concert were planted.
A classical tabla virtuoso, Zakir Hussain has long been drawn to meet and play with musicians of other traditions. In 2011, tabla master Hussain was invited to bring four other Indian musicians to Scotland, funded by an arts council grant, to join with musicians of Celtic traditions.

‘After a few days of rehearsing, sharing ideas, and discovering common ground in their respective genres, they kicked off Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival with an opening concert that was deemed by many to be one of the most successful in recent years.’ *(quoted from program) (more…)

Her Majesty is majestic in “The Audience”

How it’s New York: New York actors have taken some of the roles that were originally done in London, and of course, it’s a Broadway play, with a hot elizabethallticket.
How it’s English/Irish/Scottish: It’s the Queen of England. And she drinks a hot whiskey! (she calls it a hot lemon). And a lovely scene takes place in Balmoral, Scotland.

A lot of English accents were heard online for people waiting to get in to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre to see Helen Mirren play Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Gordon’s play, “The Audience.” No wonder: it’s a play about the meaning and future of the British monarchy, and it was a big success in London (that’s how it has quotes on the boards even before it’s opened here).

Americans don’t care as much about that going in, nor do we know without reference to the program (and  larger handy stock-card with Prime Minister names on it inserted) who is who. But we do care about great acting, and in Mirren, you get lots of that.

The conceit of the play is to trace the queen having a private audience with 12 different PMs, as they’re called. It’s really to the play’s credit that it skips around in time and doesn’t pose an obvious linear question. Instead, we start in 1995, then flash back to before her coronation, and then basically skip around.

elizabethscotlandYet the play never seems to ramble. There’s an urgency about it and a beauty, too. This queen is regal, yet still a person, lovable and occasionally mischievous. Mirren’s sly smiles at a little teasing witticism are irresistible.

Mirren pulls off a tour-de-force  (she won an Olivier Award for Best Actress for the role in England, and an

Think being a princess is fun? Think again.

Academy Award for the role in “The Queen”).   

The play is adapted from the movie “The Queen,” also written by Morgan– but it’s somehow more powerful as a play. Having the sets described rather than shown, by the Queen’s Equerry (Geoffrey Beevers) forces us to enter into this world. It’s a world with more at stake in the end than what seems to American eyes an obsolete symbol. Monarchy by the end of the play is shown to be something more, something that embodies a national spirit, when governments come and go. Stephen Daldry’s direction is clear, forceful, and fun. He brings us into the world of the play at once by having the Equerry explain its conceit. Two Beefeaters stay onstage during intermission. It’s tempting, just as it is at Buckingham Palace, to try to make them laugh.


She Lives Life to the Fullest – My InterReview with Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, The Face of Lanvin

How it’s New York: Jacquie Murdock is a native New Yorker

Face of Lanvin 2012

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: She’s Scottish

Yahoo is currently featuring an article called “Awe-Inspiring Women of 2014.” But my choice is Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, featured in the documentary Advanced Style, and a Face of Lanvin 2012. In two generous interviews, Murdock impressed me as being one of the most dynamic and courageous women I have ever known.

Murdock, a former dancer with the Apollo Theater, had always known who she was. After church in 1930’s Harlem, her cultured, middle-class family (Her father was a restauranteur.) attended salons at inspiring hosts’ beautiful homes that were filled with wonderful music and conversation. One day, at the age of 5, this youngest of three daughters announced to her family that she wanted to be a ballet dancer. This would not be exceptional by today’s standards but back then, it wasn’t an considered an acceptable occupation for a well-brought-up young lady – or a lucrative career choice. So her parents – Scottish, Jamaican-born Edward Templeton Campbell and his Jamaican wife, Izilda Fyffe Campbell (childhood sweethearts who grew up and married in Jamaica, lived in Cuba, then emigrated the United States in the 1930s) – gave her piano lessons. This did little to deter Murdock’s ambitions, for she was born to stand out.

06_ADVANCED STYLE_Photo Credit to Ari Seth Cohen

I was always a fashionista

Then her mother sent 8-year old Murdock for sewing lessons. Tall, with the looks and posture of a dancer, she became her mother’s seamstress’ model. She was finally in the spotlight. (Murdock allows that she might be related to Naomi Campbell. “I was always a fashionista,” she assured me.)

Her dancing was never far behind, though. This was the time of Cafe Society, and Murdock performed at famed NYC ballrooms when she was 15: the Renaissance, the Savoy, the Audubon. But she “grew up at the Apollo.” Frankie Manning and Norma Miller were

She grew up at the Apollo

looking for tall girls who could dance, and Murdock began to dance there when she was 17. When she turned 20, she found that she couldn’t get a show, so Murdock took a typing job at Universal Films – the first black woman to get a job there. Then she joined Eubie Blake’s show, “Black-Skinned Models.” She was 25, and she took off!


Let The Right One In ~ Not to be missed ~ Even if you don’t like vampire stories

How it’s New York: It is playing at St Ann’s Warehouse in Dumbo, Brooklyn
How it’s Irish: It is produced by fellow Celts, The Royal Theatre of Scotland

It was a surreal experience on Sunday evening to walk out onto the dimly lit, cobble-stoned streets of Dumbo with Brooklyn Bridge views sneaking through the narrow streets giving the sense that this could have been any time period in New York ~ a scene dramatically contrasting with the party full of fellow Celts at Power House Bookstore I just left. The occasion? The Royal Theatre of Scotland’s after party for their opening night of Let the Right One In, which just finished a successful run on the West End. In attendance along with myself (!), were celebrities born on the far side of the pond, Talking Head’s, David Byrne and Sex and the City’s, Kim Cattrall ~ ooh la la.

Let the Right One In NY 1

Directed by John Tiffany ~ who incidentally also directs Once on Broadway ~ Let The Right One In, is based on a bestselling Swedish vampire book and critically acclaimed film by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I am not a fan of the vampire genre and went along with a Scottish friend, but upon seeing the eerily designed set by Christine Jones, which filled the vast St Ann’s temporary stage space, I began to think that opening up to new genres wasn’t such a bad idea. Floor to ceiling grey, branchless trees covered the stage along with a masterful use of props, which were wheeled out by cast members as we were transported from locker room to living room and from gym hall to swimming pool.

The underlying story is so strong that when the occasional brutal acts occur, they are almost like a side dish to the main event.

The underlying story is so strong that when the occasional brutal acts occur, they are almost like a side dish to the main event.That is how well written this story is. Oskar (Cristian Ortega) is an unpopular kid who is bullied at school and has a shaky home life, so he escapes to the woods for some peace and solitude when he can. Eli (Rebecca Benson) hangs out in said woods and soon the two befriend one another. Their playground is however a dangerous place due to a recent spate of murders, where the blood is sucked out of the body prior to death, but the kids hang out there fearlessly regardless. And why not ~ young Eli has nothing to fear after all, which she finally admits to Oskar when she tells him she is ‘one of those things’, as interestingly the word vampire is never mentioned in the entire play.

The strong supporting cast includes Susan Vidler, who plays Oskar’s mother and Gary Mackay, Cliff Burnett, Graeme Dalling and Andrew Fraser. Flawless performances from all including some beautiful dance moves to the haunting musical soundtrack by Olaf Arnalds.

The play has been extended until March 8th and is a must see regardless of your feelings about blood and gore, because unlike the movies, thankfully, there is only so much that a stage production can do in this department. Go, see for yourself!

ps Ask us in the comments if you are curious as to how the underwater scene was enacted ~ we spoke with Ortega and got him to spill the beans on that!

Pipes of Christmas returns for a Scottish Christmas

How it’s New York: The show has been going on in NY/NJ for 16 years now, and has become a holiday favorite.Pipes of Christmas
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Highland pipes. Robert Burns. A star from Outlander!

There are many versions of Irish Christmas out there. Scottish Christmases are fewer on the ground. But this one is a charmer. “The Pipes of Christmas” has its 16th year of performances this year, and as always, will include readings from Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and outstanding music.

The Clan Currie Society produces the events. The first concert is on Saturday, Dec. 20, at the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, 921 Madison Ave. at 2 and 7 p.m. On Sunday, Dec. 21, the concert crosses the Hudson to the Central Presbyterian Church at 70 Maple Street, Summit.

Scots Gaelic singer Gillebride MacMillan makes his New York-era debut. But though new here as a singer, he probably isn’t new to fans of STARZ’ smash hit “Outlander”: he plays Gwyllyn the Bard. (more…)

My first Irish and Celtic trad

How it’s New York: This list was sparked by a discussion in Catskills Irish Arts Week.imwildandbeautiful
How it’s Irish: It focuses on Irish(and Scottish, and English) traditional music.

In the Catskills last week, Paul De Grae and Marta Cook led a discussion about Irish music and authenticity. (The discussion had some other name but this is what it became). Why do people make albums? Should they?  James Keane was eloquent in his feelings about how “traditional” is sometimes applied to things that aren’t, such as Riverdance. Michael Tubridy was a little more forgiving, pointing out that the show was about dance, and that Japanese people came to a Miltown Malbey Willie Clancy week to learn the tradition after having been exposed to it. This was an in-the-round discussion, with voices from students as well as from teachers. Jane Kelton said that as a woman with a Scottish name, she sometimes had faced skepticism when she was learning …

This is all by way of introduction to say that in my turn I said with a laugh that I was Jewish. Willie Clancy, a fellow Jerseyan whom Keane had praised, still came from an Irish family and had been exposed to the music. But I, a little Jewish girl from New Jersey, would never have heard it at all had my brother Stephen Orel not come home from Cornell one summer with a stack of albums. Up to then, the only Irish music I’d ever heard had been the jingle on the Lucky Charms commercial, some operatic tenor stuff they played on TV on St. Patrick’s Day, maybe the score to “The Quiet Man.” Oh, and that character Finnegan who beat up Kirk in “Shore Leave” on Star Trek, they played a jig (Irish Washerwoman?) under that.

Nothing, in short.

These albums changed.



If I’d heard them five years earlier, I’d have been ditching youth symphony for a fiddle class somewhere. I’d have pestered my parents until they found me someone to work with (I’m studying with Brian Conway now, because, better late than never! And along the way have had classes with James Malcolm, Caitlin Warbelow at Irish Arts Center, and Amy Beshara).

I’d have been at fleadhs. Just the right amount of competition for me (not the ulcer-inducing challenges at Interlochen though).

So I said, G-d bless albums. And I listed what the albums were.

Here they are. At Stanford a few years later I shoved them into my backpack to host my radio show, “Wild and Beautiful” because  KZSU did not own them. I rushed out and bought a lot more, marking the second wave of albums, but that’s for another post.

Here they are. What are the ones you heard first? Do you remember? Was it always in your life? Was there a special tune?

planxtyblack1. Planxty Black.

“Sweet Thames Flow Softly” was one of the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard. That it was original and connected to “Romeo and Juliet” only made it better.

2. Planxty, “After the Break.”

I loved “The Good Ship Kangaroo” and also a jig set, “East of Glendart/Brian O’Lynn/Pay the Reckoning.” When it goes from the tension of Brian O’Lynn into Pay the Reckoning you just have to smile!


3. Silly Wizard, “Wild and Beautiful.”

This setting of “If I Was a Blackbird” is haunting and unforgettable. (more…)

The (weird) sisters are doing it for themselves: Macbeth review

How it’s New York: The shiny black sets scream “New York” to me, and at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont you always see people you know.Macbeth LCT 10-13 263a CAPTIONED
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: Macbeth is based on a real character, and the shocking sequence of some of the scenes has a ballad-like feel.

The witches in Jack O’Brien’s production of “Macbeth,” running at Lincoln Center through Sunday, Jan. 12, the witches are men in dresses. And that’s as it should be. When Macbeth and Banquo first encounter the weird sisters, Banquo says:

you should be women,

And yet your beards forbid me to interpret

That you are so.

I’ve seen them as hags. I’ve seen them sexy. I’ve never seen them as kinda sexy men in drag, and boy does that work.  The witches, played by Byron Jennings, John Glover and Malcolm Gets, have humor and fascination to O’Brien’s retelling of MacMan who Would Be King, thanks to some judicious nagging. The witches also play minor roles throughout the play, and seem to have a ball doing it. This is the first Macbeth I’ve ever seen in which the audience is complicit with the witches.

These weird sisters are doing it for themselves– and everyone else.

Macbeth LCT 10-13 162 CAPTIONEDThis is a solid, and interesting production. Ethan Hawke’s Macbeth is more befuddled than brutal, and his wife, played by Anne-Marie Duff, appears as someone who hasn’t really thought it all through– more greedy than gruesome. But together, they bring out the evil in each other. This is not the most imperial choice. These Macbeths aren’t grand. They are ambitious in a more haphazard way. The production suggests that this very banal evil, evil with a little stupidity thrown in, can damage just as much as deep-seated tyrannical ambition.

Shakespeare’s story of Macbeth, a general who, spurred on by prophecies from three “weird sisters” he meets returning from battle, that he will be Thane of Cawdor and then king, murders King Duncan, everyone in his way, and then goes mad, is one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays. It’s also one of his shortest and, in my opinion, greatest plays. A wordless version of it titled “Sleep No More” is still running downtown– that’s the one in which the audience wears masks and prowls around the rooms while actors rush on and off. The Polish company TR Warszawa’s version a few years ago at St. Ann’s Warehouse, directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna, was outstanding. Shakespeare’s tale is one of the strongest fables of how power corrupts you’ll ever see. I call it a fable because it feels like one, with its witches, ghosts, dreams, and nightmares. Lady Macbeth, who eggs her husband on when his conscience threatens to emerge, famously sleepwalks and tries to get blood off of her hands, with her soliloquy that begins, “Out, out, damned spot.” The scene of the slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children (here played by Bianca Amato and Sam Poon), Act IV., scene ii, used to be cut– it’s abrupt and chilling. Much like the way a Scottish murder ballad seems to be humming along, until you get to the stanza where someone is killed and the song just ends, and you’re left to figure out why (Usually, it’s because a girl is pregnan. But not always.) (more…)

Mick Moloney’s Cultural Tour

How it’s New York: Mick Moloney is a resident of New York City and a Global Distinguished Scholar at New York University.
How it’s Irish: Mick is from Limerick and  brings people to Ireland to experience it through his eyes.

An excerpt from my Irish Echo column, published 5/29/2013

Mick Moloney, the dean of Irish-American music.

…I spoke briefly with Mick Moloney last week, who told me that Green Fields of America will perform for the first time in Ireland on Saturday, June 8 at the TLT Theater in Drogheda.  The group will comprise Athena Tergis, Robbie O’Connell, Billy McComiskey, Joey Abarta, Donna Long and Niall O’Leary, and he’ll have a couple of special guests in Dr. Tim Collins (from the Kilfenora Ceili Band) and Tommy Sands.  Sounds like it’ll be a great show!

In our conversation, Moloney also beamed about his cultural tours, the most recent – a tour of Scotland – which ended on May 19.  A few times each year, Moloney takes small groups on tours of Ireland and Scotland, where he digs deeply into music, history and folklore.  Moloney is not only a gifted performer but he’s a top teacher as well, and based on what I’ve heard from the people who have been on these trips, they’re utterly unforgettable experiences.

On the most recent tour, the gang (which included several old time musicians from parts of Appalachia) visited Glasgow, parts of Argyll, the Outer Hebrides, the Isle of Skye, Culloden and Edinburgh.  The list of musicians they encountered along the way was quite long (Fiona Hunter, Mike Vass, Iain Duncan, Ann Martin, Ingrid Henderson, Robin Morton and Alison Kinnaird, to name just a few) and they had a bunch of rare and brilliant cultural moments along the way. (more…)

“This Side of Neverland” Is Enchanting

How it’s New York: The Pearl Theatre is a New York institution: its mission is the classics, and it has a resident company, making it old-school New
Rachel Botchan, Sean McNall, @Al Foote III

Rachel Botchan, Sean McNall, @Al Foote III

York theatre, too.
How it’s (Scottish) Irish: J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, was a Scot who wrote early works in broad Scots dialect. The understated wry humor mixed with sweetness is sheer Scottishness. The whimsy is all his own.

WARNING: This review contains spoilers both for “Rosalind” and for “The Twelve-Pound Look.”  

The plays are  witty, well-acted, with some delicious hamminess. They are even a little subversive.  Kudos to director J.R. Sullivan for bringing these whimsical explorations of identity and love to the stage.


Even before the two plays that make up This Side of Neverland, running at The Pearl Theatre through Sunday, May 26, begin, you feel as though you’ve entered a place that is cozy, familiar, and a little magical.  The red curtain has something to do with it. The stage of the Pearl’s new home on 42nd street has been turned into an early 20th-century proscenium, with an act drop, footlights, and sweetly painted scenery.

All those afternoons drawing something on a backdrop come back to you: it’s the technique still in use in elementary schools and in summer camps. There’s a reason it lasted so long: it works. Gary Levinson’s set design really sets the scene. The sweet artifice lets you in on the game, and you just choose to believe, which is very much in keeping with playwright J.M. Barrie’s approach to life. “Everything is real except middle age,” says one character in “Rosalind” near the end of the play. Which is another way of saying, perhaps, that realness is up for grabs. In your program are song lyrics, meant to be sung as preshow and intermission music with pianist Carol Schultz. The songs are “Bicycle Built for Two” (you might know it from 2001: A Space Odyssey), “After the Ball,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” and other early 20th-century or late 19th-century faves.  They set the tone perfectly: reassuring, nostalgic. It would work even better with an outgoing music hall girl egging us along, but it still worked. There’s something about singing together that makes audiences happy. Scottish singer Dougie MacLean has known this for years, and it’s going on right now in Pippin (to my mind the best thing on Broadway right now).


Sean McNall, @Al Foote III

Sean McNall, @Al Foote III

Soon we’re in the world of the plays themselves. We’re led there by Sean McNall, in addition to playing characters in both plays, is listed as “J.M. Barrie”– meaning that he gives us Barrie’s stage directions, which is a terrific touch of director J.R. Sullivan. The language is so conversational that it makes sense to hear it, and it’s particuarly fun when McNall as Barrie reads about the character, Charles, that he’s about to become:

Public school (and the particular one) is written on his forehead, and almost nothing else; he has scarcely yet begun to surmise that anything else may be required.

The three-hander has a  simple plot: Mrs. Page (Rachel Botchan), a middle-aged woman, describing herslef as “40 and a bittock,” relaxes by the sea, renting rooms from Dame quickly (Carol Schultz). A young man enters to get out of the rain, and seeing the portrait of Mrs. Page’s actress daughter Beatrice, insists on conversing with the mother of his idol. (more…)