The 2016 U.S. Spring tour of Celtic Woman got underway with the opening performances of the new Destiny tour in the Andrew Jackson theatre at Nashville’s Theatre for the Performing (TPAC) Arts on March 4 and 5, 2016 to near sell-out audiences. My overnight review of the opening show was hampered by an absence of the song titles or order from the show program and hence provided little by way of actual review of the songs. Now, after having attended several Destiny tour shows, I can provide more informative comments on this new show and current performers. Debt is also heavily owed to Mr. Peabody (Mike) for nailing down the order of songs.
Most readers here will have seen Destiny on one or more occasions on PBS stations across the country. Many will by now own the DVD/CD and will have watched/listened to it at least once. Interest will probably therefore be in how the show is presented on tour.
Initially, many will want to know whether the show’s vocal director, former Celtic Woman soloist Meav Ni Mhaolchatha, who appeared on the DVD, doing song introductions and performing on several numbers, accompanies the tour version of the show. Sadly, she does not. Neither is harpist Rebecca Winckworth, who performed Isle of Innisfree, nor German artist Oonagh, who performed T’ir na n O’g with the group on the DVD and separate video. Arrangements have thus been revised to exclude them. Whether their vocals remain in the accompanying soundtrack, I can’t tell.
Meet & Greets have been moved to pre-show as they were year before last. The shows are not noticeably more hurried, though a loud “fifteen minutes to show time” could be heard by all over Sett Neiland’s walkie-talkie. This did serve to speed the participants up without requiring too much urging by Sett himself. The soloists are as always, gracious to the last, clad in their lovely 1st act gowns, which are as seen on the DVD. In all but one of my M&Gs, a photo was taken for each attendee by a PBS rep. and one with the attendee’s own camera. The shows start perhaps a little late due to the M&G arrangement, but not much. No impatience was witnessed from the audience from the delay that I saw.
As the “Ladies and gentlemen” spiel comes over the speakers, I always hope that the venue ushers grasp the meaning of “flash photography”, which is emphasized in the message, being prohibited, to mean that non-flash photography is not. I’ve had no problems with the venues on this so far this tour.
Not surprisingly, the show opens with beautiful fiddler Mairead Nesbitt rushing into place as the lights go up. She is standing silhouetted against the lighted screen reading “Destiny” and with her bow, traces the letters of the word as the music comes up and she begins to play.
As on the DVD, this is followed by lovely Susan McFadden entering the scene and descending the central stairs, commencing the lyrics of When You Go. Gorgeous Mairead Carlin, with locks shortened from the DVD, entering next, followed by newest member, the lovely Eabha McMahon, following and spreading across the stage. As the number progresses, the choir, consisting of the now-four male members stretches across the stage entering the song and joining in the syncopated clapping. It is a more intricately choreographed version than on the DVD—a definite improvement, I think.
Choreographer Daryn Crosbie’s work is seen throughout the show. He is listed prominently in the program, described as having been with Celtic Woman since the Slane Castle production. The choreography overall seems a bit more intricate than the DVD. This is most notable to me, for example, in Susan McFadden’s Whole of the Moon, a fantastic number for the display of her singing and dancing prowess. Wow!
The show is back-dropped by a large image screen. Necessarily smaller than that at the Helix filming, but with new and enhanced images and colors—much better than on the DVD in my opinion. The spotlights have been mostly on cue during these early shows. In the Paducah show, bagpiper Anthony Byrne was left standing in the dark as he began Amazing Grace. Finally, the house lights were turned on as he progressed up the aisle playing. Maybe a spotlight malfunction there, as it was done correctly on earlier shows.
I was surprised to see Brian McGrane on the DVD as the guitarist! . On tour, he is at the piano and Tommy Buckley is on guitar, replacing Ewan Cowley. Piper Tommy Martin has been replaced by Darragh Murphy. Fran Green has replaced Andy Reilly on drums. Most people are by now aware that it is a male-only choir, with Sarah Gannon and Edel Murphy replaced by, per the program, Joshua Hurley, Ronan Scolard, Glenn Murphy and Carl McGuire. The dancing choir we saw with Chris and Nick are gone.
After When You Go, came Siuil A Run in an arrangement similar to the original Helix version, with each of the soloists singing a verse. Exquisite harmony. Next, Mairead Carlin speaks, introducing the Jimmy McCarthy number, Ride On. Begun by Mairead C, joined by Eabha singing a verse, then the two of them in haunting harmony. This great song is a major plus for the new show.
The paced is picked up with the next song, Hills of Ireland featuring fantastic fiddler Mairead Nesbitt, the first person who comes to mind for many at the mention of Celtic Woman. The song began as a slow number, transitioning into a fast-paced romp back and forth across the stage as only Mairead N can do! The audiences love it!
Next come’s Susan’s Whole of the Moon—which I regard as a highlight number of the first act. The film background has been upgraded with fabulous shots of the moon, going with the song, but it is Susan who captivates. The singing and choreography are first class! Susan is having a wonderful time and as a result, so are we!
Eabha’s haunting version of the hymn How Can I Keep from Singing is next. Begun with a single spot-light on her, with the lighting expanding with the music as she reaches center stage, this song is more moving in the tour production than in the fully-lit Helix filming. This hymn never sounded like this when we sung it in church!
Interestingly, the song is followed in the show by another hymn, Amazing Grace. It is nearly the same as the previous arrangement we are familiar with, but in this one Anthony is not joined by the piper standing as Tommy Martin had done. That may be a flourish that is added later.
Beautiful Mairead Carlin’s I See Fire is next. A marvelous solo number which on the DVD was accompanied by tight shots of Mairead. The song is allegedly from the Hobbit movie Desolation of Smaug, though I don’t recall anything like we hear here in it. It is a highlight show number in my book! Impressive images of fiery destruction are shown on the screen behind her, but it is her singing that makes the song!
Enter next Ray Fean with his solo bodhrain number. At the spot of the usual “woo-whos” that punctuate, Dan Cobble and I try to fill in with rather dismal results, as noted humorously by Ray. Oh well, we tried! Ray’s solo was well-received. In Louisville his bodhrain strap came loose, delaying him somewhat. Just when he thought he could exit the stage left, Eabha appears! Retreating to stage right, he is met by Mairead Nesbitt! Returning to the center, Eabha begins singing. It’s Bean Phaidin, a playful number sung mostly in Irish, though a verse in English is sung by Susan. The song delights the audience. It ends with Eabha explaining it is a song they all learned at age five in school in Ireland!
A new arrangement of Danny Boy follows, slightly more lively or slightly less morose, depending on your view. As they break from Danny Boy they transition into Nil Se’ n La’, this time in formal dresses, but no less entertaining. With this colossal number, intermission begins.
Following intermission, the second act begins with a bang with Skyrim, or theme from Dragonborn. This number features gargantuan performances by Mairead N on the fiddle and Anthony Byrne on….DRUM! I am impressed by his mastery of it and the sound which he and Mairead produce in it together. The choir joins in with the lyrics, which I cannot make out, though they are rousing. The screen behind shows a caped figure approaching, then retreating, face never resolved. I confess I’m not familiar with the series, so perhaps readers might enlighten me about what it is all about. It is a wondrous song that is well to be included in this show.
Orinoco Flow is next, sans thunder and lightning effects. I’m surprised the male choir can produce “sail aways” which sound fitting for the number, though I must admit I’d prefer female voices on this. Still, with a male-only choir, I can’t image it sounding any better.
Susan is stunning in this next song: Sometimes a Prayer Will Do, a moving high-value production number. It looks more intimate on the smaller stage than it did on the huge stage of the Helix on the DVD. Plus, the audience gets a closer view of Susan, which is always good news! Moving and appropriate background scenery is provided on-screen. We see beautiful Susan at her best in this one.
Next is a commemorative centennial salute to those in the 1916 Easter uprising which led the way to Irish Independence (alas not for the slain participants). Mairead Carlin gives a dramatic reading from a book, following soliloquies by Eabha in Irish, stage left and by Susan, likewise spot-lighted at stage right in English in what appears to be titled (per what is shown on the screen) as Mire Eire, or I Am Ireland. O America saluted America in Isle of Hope. This salutes Ireland.
‘Oro’ Se’ Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile follows, with entirely Irish lyrics, arranged per liner notes by Gavin Murphy/Meav. A stirring song with probably quite meaningful lyrics. Unfortunately for me perhaps, I can’t divorce the tune from the immeasurably more ignoble lyrics of What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor, which bears the same tune, but contemplates nothing more lofty than the inquiry of “what do you do with a drunken sailor early in the morning?”.
Susan next introduces My Land with the thought that, unlike days past, an Irishman/woman these days had the prospects of returning home, however far they may have roamed. A moving salute to Ireland followed with inspiring imagery of all manner of scenes of the homeland. The song was climaxed with three-part harmony from the vocalists and rousing bagpipes from Anthony Byrne. For many Orla Fallon fans, it is also a moving number because it was the song which brought her back to us as a solo artist, after we received the crushing news of her departure from Celtic Woman in 2009.
This is followed by Like An Angel Passing Through My Room, by Mairead Carlin and Brian McGrane on the piano. A highly moving number masterfully done by Mairead. You may recall in the DVD the director chose tight angle shots of Mairead, highlighting her beauty. While that can’t be duplicated in the live show, the audience is treated to her dynamic movements and mannerisms of body and voice which were not as evident on the DVD. Not a bad trade-off. I am not familiar with the covers of this number by others. I do know they could not possibly surpass this one.
The audience was next treated to that high-paced number no Celtic Woman concert should be without: Mairead Nesbitt’s Butterfly! This number should never be omitted, as any first-time viewers should not be deprived of experiencing this number. The audiences always love it.
Eabha next takes the stage for one of her signature numbers of this show: Walk Beside Me. Her rendition of this number, the quality of her voice and her mannerisms, are bound to be an audience favorite of this show, judging by the audience reception to this number. They love it! Her voice to me sounds a bit reminiscent of Ann Murray. Ann Murray has nothing on Eabha, in my book. The song arrangement is masterfully crafted, being joined underway by Mairead Nesbitt on fiddle, then by Mairead C and finally Susan, who join in the walk. A wonderful number which I predict will be one of the best loved in Destiny.
At the point where Mairead Nesbitt normally introduces You Raise Me Up, she introduces its replacement this tour: Westering Home. A wonderful number it is. Sadly, Meav and Rebecca are not here to join in, but the arrangement makes the adjustment, with a rousing climax with Anthony on bagpipes. Suitable scenes are shown on the screen, depicting a west-wardly journey home. I, for one, feel it is a fitting replace for YRMU.
Goodnight without an encore? No way! Eoghan O’Neill encourages cheers for an encore and Brian McGrane hold a finger “one more?”. The “one more’ turns out to be a delightful instrumental around the tune of Teir Abhaile or TAR as we abbreviate it, featuring a delightful surprise of the vocalists taking to instruments: Eabha to a whistle, Mairead C to an accordion and Susan on spoons. Each has a “solo” of sorts, acquitting themselves passably on these instruments. Great fun for all!
Mairead N leads an introduction to the instrumentalists who each take a solo upon introduction, followed by the choir taking the stage. Anthony Byrne takes center stage with a fantastic bagpipe solo, at which point the entire house is up and cheering.
Then, sadly the show is really over and the audience files out contented.
Those hoping to see/hear T’ir na n O’g with German guest star Oonagh, who appeared on the DVD will not find it in the show. But overall, I’d say that touring Destiny is guaranteed to please. Irish-speakers will find much more of the language than they have had in any previous shows. This show salutes Ireland in the centennial of its bid for independence, long-coming and richly-deserved, dearly paid for.