How it’s New York: The play is set in the Bronx circa 1995. The production was incubated at the Cell, a twenty first century salon in Chelsea, and it’s currently playing at the fabled Theatre 80 – St. Mark’s (where Gary Burghoff, Bob Balaban, and Billy Crystal got their start). “McGoldrick’s Thread” is part of Origin Theatre Company’s annual 1st Irish Festival (which is dedicated to presenting the work of Irish playwrights in New York City).
How it’s Irish: “McGoldrick’s Thread” tells the story of the O’Reilly family who left their home in Clonmel, Ireland to raise their children in the Bronx. Daughter Magee is an avid Irish step dancer with big dreams riding on her next competition.
“McGoldrick’s Thread,” a new Irish musical written by Marianne Driscoll, is steeped in references to Irish dance competitions – elaborate costumes, hours of practice, and intense pressure. Featuring choreography and performances by former Riverdance stars Jason Oremus and Garrett Colemen, as well as original Irish dance music by Riverdance fiddler Patrick Mangan, the production is a must-see for any Irish dance devotee. At the same time, the story’s core message of family, tradition, and cultural memory appeals to a broad audience.
Clever lyrics by Driscoll and Eliot Riskin and lovely music by Ronnie D’Addario tell the story of the O’Reilly family and the path they’ve taken from Clonmel, Ireland to the Bronx. With three raucous sons (played by Paul Nugent, Conor McIntyre, and John Charles McLaughlin) and one dancing daughter (played by Casey Murray), the O’Reilly’s small apartment overflows with song, dance, and witty banter. The action takes place during the course of one weekend when daughter Magee is preparing for an important feis (Irish dance competition).
The opening scene depicts a class at the fictitious Duffy School of Irish Dance. The cast is comprised of young dancers from a number of acclaimed local schools including: the Donny Golden School of Irish Dance, the Hagen-Kavanagh School of Irish Dance, the MacConmara Academy of Irish Dance, and the Petri School of Irish Dance. The entire group, many of whom are appearing in their first professional production, does an admirable job of singing and acting, in addition to demonstrating their impressive talent in Irish dance.
The scene ends with Mr. Duffy (played by Jason Oremus) reprimanding Magee for not having an appropriate costume to wear for the upcoming competition. Oremus does a superb job as the brooding, booze-swigging dance teacher. An explosive song and dance solo reveals that he is troubled by a mysterious past. Further explanation of his regrets would be a welcome addition to the storyline – if only for the opportunity to see more of Oremus’ unparalleled dancing.
Magee returns home and confesses her anxiety over her costume to her mother Marion (played by Elizabeth West). She retreats to the roof to practice her steps and is visited by her sweetheart Eddie Callahan (played by Garrett Coleman). Coleman woos Magee with an intricate, rhythmically complex solo that displays his phenomenal skill. The scene represents a successful and uncommon use of Irish dance as a means of furthering the narrative.
Meanwhile Magee’s father PJ (played by Peter Cormican) and his sons are gathered around the television, watching a pre-recorded hurling match and rooting for their beloved Tipperary. Flashbacks to Ireland add depth and context to the O’Reilly family characters. The audience learns that Marion was an excellent Irish dancer herself and that she and PJ met at a dance where PJ got into a fistfight (the fight scene choreography is an ingenious use of Irish dance vocabulary). Marion also reveals that her father, Thomas McGoldrick, was a renowned instrument-maker who owned his own shop. Magee dreams of her grandfather’s music store and is enchanted by a lovely solo performed by Jessie Driscoll as the Golden Fiddle.
Nostalgia is mixed with excitement and anxiety as the family contemplates taking care of young twin nieces from home. Meanwhile, Marion sneaks away to sell her father’s fiddle in order to raise the money to purchase a new costume for Magee. At the next day’s competition, Magee sparkles – as a result of her new costume and her impeccable technique. She claims first place and a kiss from her sweetheart as her family and classmates gather around her to celebrate.
The heartwarming story of “McGoldrick’s Thread” becomes even more endearing during the finale – when dancers from the audience are invited onstage to join the cast for a rousing finish.
“McGoldrick’s Thread” runs through September 29 at Theatre 80 – St. Marks. Reservations: www.1stIrish.org