What could be better than spending your evening watching Celtic dancers leap, stomp, and tap their way all over a stage? How about instead of watching it in a stadium with a live orchestra and pyrotechnics, you watch it in 3D in a movie theater? And how about if what you end up seeing is exactly the same show you payed top dollar to see live 14 years ago? Lord of the Dance is trying to make a comeback by bringing their 2010 sold out Dublin and London performances to theaters and sporting a little 3D action. The real question is, “Do we really need it?”
I was one of those millions of people who really enjoyed those Celtic dancing extravaganzas back in the 1990’s. I actually still own Riverdance on VHS, and my family paid to see Lord of the Dance when it came to town . I thought that we would be seeing a new production of LOTD this year, but to my disappointment, it is the same show that toured fourteen years ago. The dances are the same, featuring a “storyline” that is quoted as being “…a timeless story based on Irish folklore of good versus evil, and through the media of dance and music, it is understood and appreciated by every culture.” Um, I beg to differ. Our ‘Lord of the Dance’ (Michael Flatley) has multiple dance-off style fights with the evil Dark Lord Don Dorcha, as he attempts to prevent Dorcha from taking over Planet Ireland. It’s obviously difficult to get a story across when you don’t use any dialog or visuals other than interpretative dance (especially when it’s comprised only of Celtic stepdancing). Over all, the storyline is pretty weak, and to someone who doesn’t know that there’s supposed to be a clear story attached to the dancing, it could seem more like a jumbled combination of dance numbers that have a light theme to them. If you go see LOTD, then you’re obviously there to see some spectacular dancing, not a riveting story; but since the show is listed as an “Irish musical/dance production,” the story is fair game.
By far the best dance numbers are the ones that aren’t accompanied by any music at all. There are about three of these a cappella numbers; two of which include a group of dancers, and one featuring Flately solo. This is where the mesmerizing dancing style can be appreciated the most; allowing you to focus on the quick footwork and rhythmic, moving cadences. The parts in between are what fail to keep your attention, and I blame that mostly on the fact that the music is nowhere near exciting. You just can’t get the same effect from the music in a movie theater that you can in a concert hall/stadium, where the acoustics and volume make every note sing straight to your soul. The movie theater quality is pale and drab in comparison.
Chicago native Michael Flately isn’t one to be outshone by his underlings. He makes a point to have a few solos here and there, even incorporating a “love vs. lust” theme into the show — pitting “Saoirse, the Irish Cailín” against the wicked “Morrighan, the Temptress” in a constant battle for his affections. The sequined jackets are plentiful, and so are the slow-motion shots and 3D flying stars when he takes the stage. He is the only one who gets this special attention (it is HIS show after all, I suppose). He loves to throw off his jackets to get the middle-age ladies all riled up with his black tanks and tight pants.
There are a few elements that seem to be stuck in just for effect, possibly in an effort to add a little variety to the stiff legged, midriff bearing, micro-mini-clad female presence. These consist of musical numbers featuring either a sexy violin duet, or a Celtic version of a rock band consisting of Flately on flute, the violinists, guitar, bass, and drums. It is interesting to say the least, and a refreshing change-up.
After all these years, Lord of the Dance just isn’t the celebration of the Celtic arts that most people will be looking for. It’s more like the self-aggrandized Vegas version that celebrates Flatley more than the Celtic culture. Maybe I’m just a harsh and jaded critic, showing no mercy on the famed and well-loved Irish stepdance stage show. Then again, maybe I have good reason to be upset. For those fans of Flatley/LOTD, what would be the driving factor that would get you to trade your hard earned money for a movie ticket? Why, the 3D of course! This was what I was looking forward to the most, regardless of how I felt about the storyline and audio quality. I hoped that watching the production in 3D would be superior to seeing it live — imagining that the 3D cinematography would make the dancers appear to be right in front of me, and with the added bonus of better views and angled shots that you could never see at a live production. I was wrong. The 3D effects were barely noticeable when not being used with cheesy star graphics. Often the supposed “3D” tended to give the picture a clear but not ‘3D crisp’ look. This gave me a sneaking suspicion, prompting me to periodically take off the glasses to see if the 3D was even being utilized. Not surprisingly, I found that a few of the scenes weren’t in true 3D, and the audience was watching these scenes with those image-altering glasses on for no reason.
Lord of the Dance 3D shies away from getting too traditional, and features not only a mediocre story but less than optimal visuals and sound. Hell, most of the time the shots don’t even show the dancers’ feet, which is the most impressive part of stepdancing. Here again I ask, “Do we really need it?” Considering all it’s shortfalls and occasional misuse of 3D effects, I’d have to say, “No.” It’s a pleasure to see that the stepdance master has still got it, but why begin your comeback with a less than flattering presentation on the silver screen? If you’ve seen it before, there’s no reason to see it now. If you haven’t, save your cash for the real deal and see Michael Flatley live as he rejoins Lord of the Dance for another magnificent tour of North America.
I give Lord of the Dance 3D 3 “Flatley Costumes” out of 5.