The Groff Studio Series newest production, The Irish… And How They Got That Way, begins even before the audience enters the theatre. The lobby of The Studio Theatre has been completely transformed into a fully functioning Irish pub complete with classic Irish banners. This incredibly transporting design by William James Mohney with lighting by Josh Schlader was truly impressive, and set the tone for the night of excitement and celebration to come.
Once the show starts, audiences are treated to a musical history lesson on the Irish people. Although this may sound like a dry evening of theater, the four person cast brings an infectiously joyful energy that makes this history lesson fun and accessible. Stories throughout the evening range from monumental events which include the discovery of the potato and the Irish people’s challenging transition into American life. The history itself is entertaining and informative, but is really just a welcome excuse for the toe tapping Irish tunes that is delivered with enthusiasm by the cast and band.
Curt Dale Clark is a welcome presence in the company. He croons Irish classics such as the wistful ballad “Danny Boy” with much respect and heartfelt emotion. Clark also brings great fun to the evening as he regularly interacts and, at one point, merrily dances with audience members. He especially shines in his surprising tap dance sequence.
Claris Leos has proven herself to be quite the comedic talent; her latest performance at The Fulton is no exception. She brings a warm comic presence throughout the evening, and her animated facial expressions alone elicit laughs. She especially shines in a scene where she plays a drunk Irish widow. This scene, which involved Leos drinking until she could barely speak, had the audience in hysterics, and stopped the show. Leos performance is worth the price of admission alone, and is truly one of the standouts of the evening.
Cary Michelle Miller was also very entertaining as a singer/storyteller. Although strong throughout the entire show, Miller really shines in her ballad “Has Anybody Seen Kelly.” This number elicited audible sniffles from the audience and was one of the strongest numbers of the evening. She also brought a lot of wonderful personality to the Vaudeville inspired portions of the show.
Peter Cormican is a longtime veteran of The Irish and How They Got That Way. He has performed this musical all over the country, and his love for the material truly shone through his performance. He brings much sincerity to his scenes of the early Irishmen’s struggle to get to America, along with bringing strong timing to his more comedic one liners. Cormican’s authentic portrayals of the various Irish characters feels extremely real and lived in. He brings a refreshing earnestness to the evening.
Last, but certainly not least, Gillian Hassert and Jay Poff who serve as bartenders for the evening set the festive tone for the evening extremely well during the pre-show. Both even surprise as they each get their turns to belt out a number or two.
As co-directed by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark, this cast is clearly having a wonderful time. The energy pours into the audience, and even into Marc Robin’s buoyant choreography. This musical is irresistible fun that will have audiences singing and dancing long after the bar closes at The Studio Theatre.