Irish dancing is defined as a group of traditional dance forms that originated in Ireland, which can be divided into social and highly choreographed performance dances. Now I don’t know about you, but my first exposure to Irish dancing was as a young adult, surviving in the post-grunge era, watching late night infomercials. I kept seeing this one repeatedly and for some reason, I could never change the damn channel. It harnessed this infectious and looping Irish/Celtic melody with a bunch of guys and gals choreographically moving and tapping their feet at an unbelievable speed to create one hell of a rhythmic presence that demands your immediate attention while at the same time keeping their upper body and arms largely stationary. Of course, one could argue and I definitely believe could win the debate when they say Michael Flatley, a Chicago native, is single-handedly responsible for bringing Irish dancing to a worldwide audience with his involvement in the show Riverdance…the infomercial I speak of. Yes, I’ll go on record when I say if it wasn’t for the Riverdance infomercials and subsequent broadcast commercials, I would have never known about the dance form. And what a shame that would have been.
Flatley’s next venture in the world of Irish dancing just so happened to become one of the most popular shows ever created on the planet we fondly call Earth, Lord of the Dance. Now I will say this. I’m not one of those people who will bash something before I try it. So with that being said, I did attend an engagement of Lord of the Dance some several years back in Cleveland. My experience was meh to say the least, but I appreciated it for what it was. I guess it just wasn’t my proverbial cup of tea. I wasn’t overly blown away like I was so many years ago with those Riverdance commercials that seemingly mesmerized me. However, within the last year or so, I started hearing some positive buzz building around an Irish dance “spectacular” show forming down in sunny Sarasota, Florida. Lucky guys! I say that because I love me some Florida sunshine right about now. But seriously…
So like usual, my FBI-ike mind forced me to do some research on these guys down in Florida to learn all can about the dance show taking Sarasota by storm. Rhythm in the Night: The Irish Dance Spectacular was created and privately funded by a company known as Two Step Productions. Headed up by business partners Justin Boros and Gregg Senko, Rhythm in the Night: The Irish Dance Spectacular (to be referred to as RITN throughout the rest of this review) features a cast of the most skilled and accomplished Irish dancers from around the world. The show takes place in the dark ages and features an epic journey derived from a tale of good versus evil where deception reigns and temptation rivals the strongest of wills. Sounds deep and thought provoking, huh? I could go on forever and risk boring you with details you could easily read about on the show’s website (www.rhythminthenight.com), so I’m going to get on with the reason we are all here today, to dissect and talk about the show’s epic soundtrack. You ready? I am!
I planned my trip down in Florida this past February to visit some friends in alignment with RITN’s showcase performance in their home base, sunny Sarasota (you will NEVER hear me talk bad about Florida…paradise). As a member of the press, I was invited to watch the dancers all practice the numbers prior to the evening’s show. Any hesitation I had about RITN was quickly erased once I witnessed the show’s professionalism coupled with the massive stage and associated elements, the bad a$$ costumes and most importantly, the robust and epic sounding score they all synchronously tapped rhythmically to. It was like seeing the power of 300-like soldiers (also think vintage Cobra from G.I. Joe) coupled with synchronized and majestic 501st Legion Stormtroopers brought to life on stage. I was instantly a believer. Never did I think my bullish musical thoughts could ever be swayed by the world of Irish dancing. It just went against everything I believed in, but rest assured…I’m a believer now. So needless to say I was stoked when I received a call from Two Step Productions asking me if I would be interested in giving their full orchestral 19-song soundtrack a listen to and sharing my thoughts with our readers and their fans alike. The honor is all mine. And here we are.
The first thing that struck me about RITN other than their costumes, stage presence and dance choreography was the beefiness of the show’s soundtrack, orchestrated by Andrew and Jared DePolo, that they tapped their hard shoes to. After listening to this orchestrated soundtrack just once, I formed the following opinion. The DePolo brothers may be Cleveland’s best kept secret, but I digress. Ever since Hans Zimmer’s mastery in The Dark Knight, I have increasingly been paying more attention to a film’s score (other than the famous John Williams’ tracks), and this dance performance is no exception. Thankfully, due to the world of iTunes and other mp3 sites, you won’t have to go all the way down to Florida to experience the magic of RITN (although you should make it a point to see the show when it comes to your town). You can experience it anywhere. So what I thought I would do is to break my review down track-by-track below. The full-length RITN experience is broken down into two acts. Below I have listed the scenes/songs (in BOLD) in order within their respective act (not all scenes appear on the soundtrack), included their brief synopsis (in italics) from the show’s official website and added my own flavorful thoughts (however applicable they may be) about how the particular track made me feel. Here goes nothing.
Darkness Falls - Evil’s influence claims the land and its greatest hero. The wicked seductress Azura has captured Balor, the kingdom’s greatest hero, and placed him under her spell. Balor now leads her army of relentless henchmen in a plan to dominate all opposition. One word here. It’s all about P-O-W-E-R. This is the way you start off a show. Think of the chills you felt when you first heard “The March of the Empire” on the big screen. That’s how I felt when I first saw this opening number.
Temptation - Further weaving her wicked ways, Azura seduces Balor deeper under her control, distancing him further from his true self. Despite the beauty of this femme fatale, only darkness lies under the surface. The powerful drums and haunting chants leave little to the imagination about how big and colossal this stage show is going to be when you see it. It’s further mixed with an infectious and swaying Celtic groove and a mesmerizing string section.
Antiquity (Musicians Only) – Even amidst the approaching chaos, there is an innocence to the ancient times and elderly lands that still exists. This one, if you listen really closely, kind of reminds me of the beginning of the score to Kick-A$$. A hero rises from the most unlikely of places. It’s calm, inviting and most of all, tranquil.
The Calling – With the kingdom stripped of its heroic leader, the people of the land call upon Solas in their hour of need. Solas, the younger brother of Balor, and his knights lead a courageous effort to rescue their commander and defeat the evil Azura. The bagpipes awake. This one echoes its Scottish roots. It’s a track that’s as mighty as the warrior Braveheart. Close your eyes and you’ll be instantly transported to a kingdom beyond your wildest imagination. If Rocky Balboa was an Irish boxer, this would be his training theme song.
Shooting Stars - The stars are in alignment as the constellations show favor upon the heroine Aisling. Forever Balor’s faithful love, the graceful yet daring Aisling joins Solas in his quest as she longs for a peaceful kingdom and the love that has unwillingly left her side. Things slow down for a minute here, but not for long. It’s majestic and inspirational as ever. This, like its predecessors, is an uplifting and rousing score as we near the end of its four plus minute runtime. You won’t be able to stop tapping your feet by the time this one’s over. What a rush!
Rising Moon (Musicians Only) – As the full of the night rests upon us, a messenger of music delivers their tune in anticipation for the return of the dancers. The fiddler steals the show here and demands your attention. I never thought I’d ever say this, but I’m in love with a fiddle.
Reign of Fury - In a display of raw power and ferocity, Balor commands his new found legion of henchmen as they prepare to take the kingdom by storm and eliminate any and all resistance. This one is an Acapella dance scene.
Serenity - In a chance meeting, Aisling encounters the evil Azura as the pair face each other for the first time. As Aisling displays her stunning grace and beauty, Azura follows a step behind. Like the name implies, peace resounds in this soothing and calming track.
Midnight Encounter - The day has left and night envelopes the landscape. A clouded moon fails to pierce the black sky while an uneasiness grips the air. As Balor and the henchmen continue their march of oppression, Solas and his knights make their move in an attempt to halt the darkness driving Balor’s aggression. The threat of evil lurks here before our first act break . The bone-chilling chants paint the audio landscape with dread. Like the previous entries, prepare for things to get mighty big, rousing and robust by the track’s epic conclusion.
Feisanna - The dust has settled and the heroes regroup. In the aftermath of a challenging battle, the knights and the women celebrate all that remains good. The gathering proves to find a bright spot in even the most foreboding of times. Can you say guitar? There’s nothing more beautiful to my ears than a clean acoustic guitar. This little ditty makes me feel like I’m galavanting and skipping along the country wayside. I love it! For a good time…”Feisanna”!!!
Call to Arms - After a disappointing stalemate in engaging Balor and his forces, Solas issues a decree for all the kingdom’s knights to join him in his cause to relieve Balor of his curse and return peace to the people. This one is an Acapella dance scene.
Enchantment - Battling his inner strife caused by the sorcery of Azura, Balor struggles to overcome Azura’s spell as he is torn by the recognition of his love Aisling. After just one listen, you’ll be enchanted and under the spell of this track. Its hypnotic and Arabic traits will pull you under. You cannot resist.
Darkest Hour - In the blackest of night, Aisling finds herself under the worst of circumstances as she makes a final effort to persuade Balor back to his true self. With the former hero back under Azura’s trance, Balor commands the henchmen to destroy any and all challengers. Things get a little hectic here and you’ll feel it. This is your all-is-lost moment and the dark demeanor tonal qualities of the track spells only one thing…doom and gloom (I guess that’s two, huh?). But when has doom and gloom ever sounded so good? It’s powerful. It’s menacing. This is your worst nightmare. Embrace it. Face it. Conquer it!
Winter Winds (Musicians Only) – As brisk winds pass through the horizon of a fading moon, it is the calm before the storm that fulfills the onset of dusk. The majestic strings here remind me of the depression I feel 7 months out of the year living in the cold Cleveland climate…melancholy at its absolute best.
Celtic Storm – Rescued and renewed, Aisling leads her ensemble of heroines against the forces of Azura led by the seductress herself. Armed with nothing more than compassion and drive, Aisling and her allies are determined to defeat the evil Azura and her clan. It’s time to get this Celtic party started! It’s a throw-down of grand Celtic proportions and the fiddles and monstrous drums take the game to a whole new level. Bad hip and all…I just want to move it…move it.
Rise to Redemption - The forces of good and evil are on a collision course and the profound clash of both sides come to their final destinations. Captured by Azura and with Solas too far to help, the henchmen trap Aisling and seek to banish her for eternity. Her moment of desperation remains the last hope for redemption to rise from the shadows. I can almost hear the Emperor telling Lord Vader to rise here. The world is yours for the taking. At least that’s the mood this body of work paints within my wild imagination. It’s triumphant in every sense. Why wasn’t this piece in The Avengers?
From Darkness to Light - With the smoke cleared and Azura defeated, Balor rids himself of his armaments as Aisling finds herself in his arms once again. The couple is reunited to the purity and love they had before the darkness swept the kingdom. This one instantly teleports me back to Middle Earth, smack dab in the middle of Bilbo Baggins’ village. It’s tranquil, serene and utterly peaceful. The world feels like a much better place now.
Celebration - The kingdom rejoices in the triumphant victory of their champions, assembling brethren across the land, the citizens celebrate the defeat of Azura and the arrival of peace. Come on people. The world is not all doom and gloom! It’s your time to shine. Put this track on and it will instantly erase your pouty frown with a Celtic smile. Celebrate good times, indeed. It’s a celebration!
Two Step - With the story complete, the cast of RITN display their rhythmic prowess and discipline led by the four principal dances in this dynamic acapella piece. This one is an Acapella dance scene.
Rhythm in the Night - The finale featuring the four principal dancers and the RITN Irish dance troupe. Remember in the fourth Rambo film when our hero is running away in the jungle from the claymore he just set off and the electrifying and heart pounding rhythm in the background as he fled? That’s the exact same adrenaline rush I feel here. And I LOVE it! I just want to shout exuberantly from the highest mountain top. I want to be an Irish dancer in RITN.
* It should be noted that tracks 18 & 19 on the soundtrack are live performances of the mighty “Darkness Falls” and the victorious “Rhythm in the Night.”
So you still with me after we covered all that ground? Good! I have a treat for you. I thought it would be great for a change instead of having a reviewer or critic, such as myself, force all their subjective thoughts upon you, to hear from the artists themselves. I had the pleasure of talking with Gregg Senko and Justin Boros the other day about what their directives were when they sought out to create the show’s soundtrack with the DePolo brothers and basically how it all came about. Their candid, and much appreciative response, can be found below (thanks guys!).
“We wanted to do something completely new and different with the music. The music is the backbone of the show. I believe someone likes or enjoys a song or a type of music by its ability to draw out emotions and the more emotion a person feels when listening to music, the better it resonates with them.
We wanted to create a new genre of Celtic music for Rhythm in the Night that draws out the emotion much more than the music in the few other Irish dance shows out there. So when a person listens to a fast, up-tempo, adrenaline-rushing song, it’s magnified and they feel it that much more and when they hear the lows it can bring them to tears. I believe we were able to achieve this by working with Andrew and Jared DePolo and using a full orchestra.
Several of the other shows out there use traditional pub style music, and while many people enjoy that, we didn’t want to be a cookie cutter show that most of the music all sounded the same and doesn’t draw the emotion out of the audience on the levels we wanted to.
Also, the reason the soundtrack creation was such a lengthy process is that we didn’t have Andrew and Jared DePolo just compose us 17 tracks for the show and then we create the dances to the music. Instead, we would form the music to the dances. We actually had every dance completed before we even began work on the soundtrack. Therefore, we had to shape each and every second of the music to the dance. There were an enormous amount of changes and back and forth that took place to get literally every second of every track correct. We were lucky to work with such great composers that had the patience to work with us in that manner. But as you will hear in the final product, this is certainly not traditional Irish music with just a fiddle and a bodhran. It’s a full orchestral accompaniment created completely from scratch and formed to each second of each dance. So if you enjoy the music and feel the emotion now, just wait until you’re in the audience.”
So there you have it folks. Straight from the artist themselves. It doesn’t get any better or more personal than that. So here’s what it all boils down to. Whether you’re into Irish dancing or whether you’re just a fair weather fan like myself, there’s nothing but big and promising things about RITN. I repeat. This soundtrack is that underlying DNA genesis and nuclei of something BIG that’s about to explode on the scene and put the world of Irish dancing back on the map. One day, when I’m right (because you can’t prove that I’ll be wrong), you’ll be like that Brian White nailed it. I think Michael Fassbender’s character in Prometheus, David, says it best. “Big things have small beginnings.” And this my friends maybe something small at the moment, but it’s the start of something HUGE. Trust me.
If you like the robust and orchestrated scores of Hans Zimmer and John Williams, then do yourself a favor and give this one a whirl. It’s not just for the Celtic music lovers or Irish dancing community only. You don’t have to see the show. You just have to love being affected by the power of music. This one’s for the score aficionados. And I think after just one listen, you’ll agree. It’s MONSTROUS. And best of all…ITunes allows you to listen to the first 90 seconds of any track. So what do you have to lose? The 19-track soundtrack clocks in just over 78-minutes and puts a completely new spin on the Celtic music genre (at least for me) as it bends genres and the DePolo brothers deliver the excitement of the live show straight to your eardrums on-the-go. So what are you waiting for? Enjoy!