Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Impressive Feet? Certainly, but 'Heartbeat of Home' Rarely Quickens My Pulse -- Chicago Theater / Dance Review

Theater / Dance Review

Heartbeat of Home
Oriental Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 16

With a stage full of incredibly talented and attractive performers, Heartbeat of Home--a new step dancing extravaganza from the producers of Riverdance--was never unpleasant to watch.

The dancers showcased dazzling artistry, athleticism, syncopation and dexterity through a succession of numbers that varied greatly in style and tone.

The onstage band was demonstrably terrific as it rhythmically traveled across Irish, Latin, African and other global musical languages, sometimes within the same song.

An occasional solo vocalist, Lucia Evans, had a lovely voice that richly carried to the last row of the spacious Oriental Theater.

And the nearly full house gave the tireless performers--totaling 40 dancers and musicians--a well-deserved standing ovation on the show's first night of its U.S. tour.

So if you want to know if Heartbeat of Home is good and if I liked it, "Yes" would be my unadorned answer to both.

But if the question is, "Did I love it?" or "Would I want to see it again?" well, "No, not really."

So I would really only recommended it--at least for considerably more than the $10 I paid as a Broadway in Chicago subscriber with cheap seats--to those who love Riverdance.

Given that that show has been seen by untold millions and has raked in untold billions, that's a pretty expansive recommendation.

And as referenced above, the dancers and musicians are remarkably skilled, and--even as viewed through binoculars from the very top of the theater--rather stunning. I specifically cite Ciara Sexton because she is the top-listed and foremost featured dancer, but she is just one of several gorgeous women and men. It's not hard to imagine this cast may be having a whole lot of fun back at the hotel.

Yet while I enjoyed the fusion of steps and sounds of various worldwide origins, and relished seeing several of the dances--particularly the large group numbers with lots of loud tapping--I was more impressed than ever really captivated.

Ciara Sexton
Admittedly, I am less fond of interpretive and non-narrative entertainment--such as Cirque du Soleil--than I am of more traditional musical theater, plays and rock concerts featuring songs I know and love.

Consequently, while I have enjoyed a couple ballets, absolutely loved tap dancer extraordinare Savion Glover again a few weeks ago and did see Riverdance some years back, dance shows are a rather small part of my live entertainment diet.

I haven't often sought them out, nor truly embraced them when I have.

While I am genuinely amazed at what great dancers--or acrobats, STOMPers, etc.--can do, I usually find the first and/or best 10 minutes sufficient, rather than remaining truly engrossed for two hours or more.

In watching Heartbeat of Home, I perceived that were I to see any one or a few of the dancers as street performers, my mind would be blown by just how awesome they are at an art form that really is pretty cool.

But while I don't mean to convey that Heartbeat of Home is simply two hours of the same thing, as some of the more specialized numbers between the mass step dances that open and close the show are rather imaginative and most quite well done--a construction crew "high beam" piece is emphatically both--too few of the roughly 120 minutes had me acutely wowed. And if there was any type of thematic or narrative strain throughout the various dances, it was lost on me.

Without explicitly remembering Riverdance, my understanding is that this new show is akin, albeit with
greater global flavoring enhancing the Irish step dancing conceit of the original blockbuster.

And, according to the show's producer Moya Doherty in this Tribune piece by Chris Jones, the dancers' skill level has advanced considerably since the rise of Riverdance.

John McColgan, who worked on that show with Doherty, conceived and directs this one; he also introduced it in person on Tuesday night. Brian Byrne is the composer of all original music, Joseph O'Connor the lyricist on the vocal pieces and David Bolger the choreographer. I'll also note percussionist, Steve Holloway, who has considerable front-and-center stage time playing a hand-held drum.

If Heartbeat of Home sounds like something you would like, I have no reason to suggest that you wouldn't. The warm standing ovation certain bespeaks that most in attendance seemed to love it. (Discount tickets seem to be available on both HotTix and Goldstar.)

And while this line is always somewhat blurred, my @@@1/2 (out of 5) rating is likely less representative of the quality of the production than simply my own enjoyment of it.

I'm glad I saw it, and am always happen to expand my cultural horizons, but can I conceive paying over $50 to ever see this show again?

Perhaps, but certainly not in a heartbeat.
Below is a short Heartbeat of Home promotional video from Broadway in Chicago. A longer one can be found here.

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