Dancing the Night Away
Special to The Irish American Post
clickety-clack of hard shoes has made for Gaelic thunder over snowy central
Wisconsin this winter as a line of young dancers demonstrate how stepdancing
is really done. Judging by the audience handclapping and toe-tapping in
time with the music, the kids' efforts are paying off in bucketfuls of
rainbowed entertainment gold.
"And They Called It Ireland," an upbeat Irish and Irish American song
and dance review at the Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson runs through
Feb. 25 with enough champion performers on stage for a mini-fleadgh.
The show was produced by the Fireside's longtime artistic director
Ed Fleisch who worked closely with choreographer Mary Beth Griffith. Her
mother, Mary, ran the Griffith School of Irish Dancing in Connecticut for
"With the popularity of Irish dancing these days, we thought we'd try
something different. Anyway, I've always loved Irish music," asserted Fleisch,
a well-known regional performer in addition to his stage directing. Also
an award-winning writer, Fleisch's work has had extensive distribution
around the Midwest. His musical adaptation of Peter Pan earned a Joseph
Jefferson Award for Best Children's Theater Production in Chicago.
Griffith, a step-dancing champ and former Radio City Rockette, has worked
out routines for the Ballet de Trocadero, the Dance Theater of Harlem and
Broadway and off-Broadway shows. She was also assistant choreographer for
Agnes de Milles' "The Informer" at the Lincoln Center in New York. Fireside
musical director Paul Hamilton also has a ton of credits to his name, including
post-graduate studies in Russia. He has presented numerous shows in Chicago
and at the Drury Lane Oakbrook and went to Ireland to research the dance
and music scene there prior to the Fireside production.
That's what is behind the scenes, but it's the Irish singing and dancing
outfront that draws the motorcoaches and the motorists to the complex on
Fort Atkinson's south side. After a hearty meal of Chicken St. Patrick
and Celtic Salad on the restaurant side of the theater, the folks crowd
to their seats, eager to see and hear the wonders of the Auld Sod.
"The older folks are the best," enthused Orla Molloy, 20, a native of
Waterbury, Conn. "They have so much fun. I take them up on the stage to
learn some steps and they really enjoy it. It's amazing the energy they
bring," she pointed out. Molloy currently is Ladies Under 21 New England
step dancing champion and has competed nationally and at the Worlds in
Limerick. She's studied with Connecticut's Griffith School for 16 years
and is taking a semester break from her resource management studies at
the University of Connecticut to appear in the show.
"I've been dancing since I was 5 years old. I really love it," she said.
"However, when I first started, Mary Griffith, my teacher, used to joke
that I had blueberry pancakes for feet. I hope I don't look like that now,"
she laughed. Certainly not, judging by the applause at the Fireside these
days when fast-moving Molloy's on stage. And now, when home, she helps
the Griffith School as an instructor, working closely with youngsters 5
Chicago's northwest side is where dancer John O'Hara, 19, hangs up
his hard shoes when vacationing from school -- growing up with St. Theacla's
as his parish. He was graduated from Notre Dame High School in Niles, Ill.,
and is now a sophomore at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. His dad,
Mike, emigrated from Longford in 1965 and mom, Margaret, is a West Side
Windy Citian who used to dance with the Pat Roach School.
As with Molloy, O'Hara has been dancing since a youngster. "Ah, jeez,
we had a house full of dancers," he said. Of the nine kids in his family,
two of his sisters and a brother still compete. "Of course, we all did
other things in addition to dancing. I was tight end and punter on our
football team; we made the state quarter finals as a junior and senior,"
he said. "I found that dancing helped football and football helped dancing
which is really quite physical."
O'Hara learned the ropes at the Mullane School of Dancing in Chicago,
ranking high in dozens of regional, national and world competitions. He
is the reigning National Junior Men's Champion and tours with a Riverdance
troupe in the summer. He inadvertently auditioned for the Fireside job
while competing recently in St. Louis. Colleen Griffith, sister of the
Fireside show's choreographer Mary Beth Griffith, was a judge there and
passed his name along as a hot prospect.
"I was just about to register for snow shoveling around school when
I got the call asking if I would be interested in performing at the Fireside,"
he recalled. "You bet I was," was his response. That was certainly a wise
move because rehearsals stretched from Dec. 8 through Dec. 21 -- while
almost 50 inches of record snowfall fluttered down on Wisconsin.
O'Hara appreciates the live quality of the show in Fort Atkinson, even
without the pretaped tapping that some large productions use to muffle
missteps. "So every show is different, you always have to pay attention,"
After finishing school in communications, O'Hara would like to tour
fulltime for a year with Riverdance and then consider a move into public
relations or even labor mediation. Until then, it's Fireside fun with frenetic
|For more information about "And They Called It Ireland," contact the
Fireside Dinner Theatre, Business Hwy 26 South, Box 7, Fort Atkinson, Wis.,
53538; 1-800-477-9505. The theater's Website is www.firesidetheatre.com.
The Fireside is two hours northwest of Chicago and 40 minutes southeast