Frank McCourt’s The Irish and How They Got That Way
Directed by Danielle Paccione Colombo
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Somerville) Frank McCourt’s The Irish and How They Got That Way is a musical revue that’s less about the Irish than what goes into being Irish American. Lots of drinking and tragic songs, it says. The fare is light, airy, and mainly interested in adding to the mystique of the Emerald Isle.
The Irish and How They Got That Way is infectious in its charm. It’s funny, sweet, and, at least for the first half of the show, sad. Stirring versions of “Danny Boy,” “Fields of Athenry,” and “Mrs. McGrath” can be difficult to endure without a twinge of feeling. The show never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously, though, with a cast all too happy to lapse into “Give My Regards to Broadway” as well as the comic, “Finnegan’s Wake.” Storytelling and scraps of history keep the action moving between numbers.
It’s a very safe show, one that keeps to the main bullet points of Irish-American history. This includes immigration to America due to the Irish Potato Famine, the construction of the Erie Canal, and John F. Kennedy. A tradition of heavy drinking remains relatively harmless and a contemporary pop song by U2 is worked into the mix. The show isn’t exactly looking to reconstruct a period drama or start controversy. The Irish are tragic and heroic, says the show, with very little room for argument. Complexity is eschewed in favor of national pride and viewers looking for anything else will probably be unsatisfied.
Musicians Irene Molloy, Meredith Beck, Andrew Crowe, Jon Dykstra, Gregg Hammer, and Janice Landry keep the musical numbers playful. Their enthusiasm pours into the audience. I think it’s pretty apparent they care about this material, whether they’re singing “Shores of Amerikay” or “Yankee Doodle Danny.”
For those looking for historical grit, The Irish isn’t the best candidate. It’s an excellent show if you’re looking for a fun evening, though, full of warmth and very good music. I enjoyed myself which, at the end of a revue like this, is probably what keeps interest in the form alive and well.