Michael Londra’s “Celtic Yuletide:” A Great Night’s Craic, at Marines’ Memorial Theatre through January 1, 2012
“Craic” is a Gaelic word with no exact English translation but, for the Irish, it’s synonymous with good fun. And good fun, great music and holiday spirit are plentiful in “Celtic Yuletide,” a wonderful performance of song and music featuring internationally renowned Irish tenor Michael Londra (of Riverdance on Broadway fame) currently at Marines’ Memorial Theatre in San Francisco. Londra performs a mix of traditional heartwarming Irish carols like “Winter, Fire and Snow” and Gaelic versions of Christmas songs, including “Silent Night” (“Oiche Ciuin”) and “The Wexford Carol.” The evening also features songs Celtic songs of a new Ireland, such as Londra’s popular crossover song “Beyond the Star,” which has been recorded by choirs the world over and Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and the signature ballad “Danny Boy.” Accompanying Londra are an 11-piece orchestra and Irish band that incorporate a bodhrán (the national drum of Ireland) and the plaintive uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes) to produce rhythms, low whistles and haunting intonations that infuse a mix of tunes ranging from frenetic reels to heartbreaking ballads.
Londra is accompanied by some of the world’s finest Celtic musicians including Sephira, the fiery red-haired Irish sister duo Joyce and Ruth O’Leary, whose hauntingly beautiful voices and mastery of their violins are mesmerizing. They slayed the house with a piercing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (1984).
Celtic Yuletide also showcases some of the best Irish stepdancers in the world, including featured dancer Owen Barrington, the 2008 Senior Men’s World Irish Dance Champion and Riverdance alumnus. It’s a pure adrenaline rush just watching these young dancers in varied formations execute precision footwork and high kicks in perfect sync with one another without appearing to move their upper bodies. The costumes too are gorgeous–colorful and ornate dresses in a variety of styles and dress shirts and black trousers for the men.
Afternoon Yuletide Tea and Celtic Menu: For an even more authentic Irish feel, The Marines’ Memorial Club Leatherneck Steakhouse and Lounge (located in the same building as the Marines’ Memorial Theatre) offers special Celtic holiday menus during the show’s run. Celtic menu additions include Guinness braised short rib with barley risotto and roasted winter vegetables, Shepherd’s pie (lamb stew with peas, carrots and whipped potatoes), potato crusted salmon with oyster stew and braised kale with bacon, and a special Bailey’s Irish Creme cheesecake. An Afternoon Yuletide Tea, offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 4 – 6 p.m. after the matinee performance and on Sundays from noon – 1:30 p.m. prior to the matinee performance (Christmas and New Year’s Eve excluded), includes an assortment of savory tea sandwiches, lemon tarts, a variety of tea cookies and scones as well as tea or coffee. (415) 673-6672 ext. 254.
Details: “Celtic Yuletide” plays through January 1, 2012, at San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter Street., 2nd floor. Tickets: $35 – $70. Premium tickets, Celtic 4-packs and family matinee specials are available at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre box office (415) 771-6900 or www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com
Luis Bravo’s “Forever Tango” –Authentic Tango with one exception: Headliner Cheryl Burke wouldn’t make the cut in Argentina– at Marines’ Memorial Theatre through January 12, 2011
Forever Tango by Luis Bravo has added two additional dates to its run at San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Theater, and now goes through Wednesday, January 12, 2011. The show headlines Bay Area native Cheryl Burke of Dancing with the Stars as well as 12 world-class Latin American tango dancers and master Argentine vocalist Martín de León. A wonderful 8-piece on-stage orchestra features three bandoneóns, the accordion-like instrument that is the mainstay of tango music. If you’re intrigued with Argentine Tango, this is the show for you: it brings an intoxicating display of passion and prowess to the stage as it traces the tango’s colorful history from its beginnings in turn-of-the century Buenos Aires bordellos to its acceptance into high society. If you’re expecting to see a lot of Cheryl Burke’s exquisite dancing, be warned Burke makes only three appearances and is out of her league amongst these Latinos who dance the tango with the intensity, passion and precision that it demands. It was a shrewd marketing move to use Burke’s name to draw in a wider Bay Area audience but ultimately Burke who is usually a very technically impressive performer, falls short.
Created and directed by Luis Bravo who plays the cello in the orchestra, Forever Tango features 19 dances, 14 of which are full tangos danced by six couples, each displaying a unique style. The dances, performed to original and traditional music, are the result of collaboration between each couple and Bravo. The ensemble numbers are not as emotionally charged or as enjoyable as the couples’ numbers. The show is performed in two acts and runs 2 1/4 hours with intermission.
The original production was a hit San Francisco in 1994 where it played for 92 weeks. In June of 1997, Forever Tango opened on Broadway where it played for 14 months and earned rave reviews. The show garnered Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations, and became the longest-running tango show in Broadway history, a record that still stands. Forever Tango has since toured the U. S., Europe and Asia.
It is the striking and technically stunning red headed Argentine Vanessa Villalba whose two solos and three duets with partner David Leguizamón laid down a standard which few matched. Villalba, who joined the Forever Tango cast in 2007, delivered a sultry combo of sensuality and mental chess— she began with a series of very staccato and dazzling quick leg movements around her partner, Leguizamón, which drove the audience wild and ignited him. In touch with each other, the floor, the music they entered a prolonged state of intimacy that was at times charged and at times meditative, their bodies and psyches in complete synchrony.
Marcela Durán, a Forever Tango icon who has been with the show since 1994, spoke a different, softer more sensitive language in her two duets with the sensational Gaspar Godoy. In a flowing dress by acclaimed Brazilian costume designer “Miro” (Argemira Affonso) with a sheer lace upper bodice that revealed her breast, Durán was mesmerizing to behold. She literally melded into Godoy in a pure sensual embrace, her signature version of the “tango hold” which is one of the foundational characteristics of the dance. Connected by the upper part of their bodies, often looking into one another’s eyes, or dancing cheek to cheek to the rhythm of the music, Durán and Godoy became one. The rhythm of the music which is often said to be based on the heartbeat, created a haunting and deeply melancholic tone which moved many audience members to tears.
Details: Forever Tango runs through January 12, 2011 at Marines’ Memorial Theatre. The 650-seat Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St. (at Mason) near Union Square, is on the second floor of a 12-story Beaux-Arts-style building built in 1926 as the “Western Women’s Club” and bought by the Marines Memorial Association in 1946. The main floor lobby contains a display of military memorabilia, most notably the bell from the USS San Francisco. The second-floor lobby bar serves refreshments before the show and during intermission. Tickets: $55 to $100. Marines’ Memorial Theatre Box Office, second floor, 609 Sutter St. (at Mason), San Francisco. Purchase by phone at (415) 771-6900 or online at www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com.
Napa Performance: Friday, January 14, 2011, 8 p.m. at Lincoln Theater Napa Valley, Yountville. Tickets: $49 to $69. Box office: 100 California Drive, Yountville, (707) 944-9900 or http://www.lincolntheater.com/