Anniversary celebration by Letterkenny Music and Drama Group is ‘must-see’ extravaganza

by Sean Hillen

Never have I witnessed such hustle-bustle and buzz of anticipation so long in advance of a show at Donegal’s An Grianan as I did yesterday (Friday) evening.

With more than a half hour to go before curtain-up, the lobby was already choc-a-bloc and lines had already formed at reception, with two friendly ladies dealing with ticket-seekers as best they could. People walking, people in wheelchairs, in couples, in groups, all beaming lively seasonal goodwill.

The reason for the excitement: the opening night of a stupendous ‘grand variety’ style show celebrating the most memorable of performances by the Letterkenny Music and Drama Group since its inception a quarter of a century ago.

Letterkenny Music and Drama Group, live shows in Donegal

Photo used with permission from LMDG

And the high level of anticipation was well-matched by the quality of the two-hour plus, multi-faceted performance on stage. Luckily, a second show takes place tonight (Saturday, 8pm) so if you don’t have a ticket grab one. So good is the show, however, if you don’t move fast enough, you may have to buy on the black market – at treble the price.

Some people think writing a review of a top-caliber show, whether it be music, theater or opera, is easy. And that writing about a bad show is hard. Not so, not always. To illustrate. One of the main challenges in writing a review of last night’s captivating music and drama group’s offering is that there were so many quite brilliant performances, a review could end up being merely a long shopping list of the good and the mighty. At the same time, it would be bereft of me not to mention at least some of the highlights.

John Ruddy Donegal, Fiddler On The Roof

Photo used with permission from LMDG

But first an overall impression.

Aside from the overall holiday-like theatrical atmosphere, the on-stage performances – from the opening, and most appropriate, number, ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business,’ the classic Irving Berlin 1946 song written for the musical’ Annie Get Your Gun,’ sung by Rodney McKeague, Ciara Gallagher and ensemble, to the heart-warming carols at the end, were so impressive – I felt at times wondering if I’d stepped into the West End or Broadway by mistake. When I say ‘performances,’ I mean singing, choreography, timing, dancing, costumes, musical support, acting and stage set-up and management.

After viewing on-screen during the interval the other highly-engrossing aspect of the evening – video clips from previous shows by the local music and drama group down through the years – from ‘Calendar Girls’ to ‘Sister Act,’ I definitely thought I had teleported to the Big Apple or London.

Chris Duddy Donegal, Chicago musical

Photo used with permission from LMDG

The evening’s quality entertainment wrung the full gamut of emotions from audience members, including my dear wife. At one moment, Columbia was laughing heartily at the ‘train-chase’ excerpt from the drama group’s All-Ireland award-winning adaption of John Buchan’s 1915 melodrama, ‘The 39 Steps,’ performed by Elaine Gillespie, Kieran Kelly, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhrighde and John Ruddy. Later, I noticed her brushing tears from her eyes at the poignancy of actor Iarla McGowan’s recitation of the 1914 World War One ‘No-Man’s Land’ scene when German and Allied soldiers exchanged gifts and pleasantries during an impromptu Christmas Day ceasefire, which was followed by a wonderful rendition of ‘White Christmas’ by the whole ensemble.

Letterkenny Music and Drama Group, theatre in Letterkenny

Photo used with permission from LMDG

Here you’ll have to forgive me. I mentioned already an aversion to long shopping lists in a review but now find myself inclined to make one, though short not long. If I don’t, this review could turn into a thick book of praise. So, succinctly, other highlights included:

  • John Ruddy’s melodious rendition of ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ from ‘Fiddler On The Roof,’ complete with credible accent.
  • Catherine Gaffney, Aoibheann Diver and Andrea Emmet for their combination of captivating acting and singing in the song ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’ from the same musical.
  • Using only white gloves as an accessory, Chris Duddy’s heart-string pulling performance of ‘Mr. Cellophane’ from the musical ‘Chicago.’
Paddy McTeague Donegal, The Celtic Story musical

Photo used with permission from LMDG

  • The ensemble’s rousing ‘Oklahoma’ led by Martin Gallen, Rosaleen Connolly and Ali Logue.
  • Riana Lynch’s goose-pimple-creating rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’
  • High-octane rock ‘n roll numbers led by Kieran Kelly and ‘Buddy Holly Lookalike’ James Coyle singing ‘Chantilly Lace,’ ‘Oh, Boy’ and ‘Johnny Be Good,’ with gyrating boogying accompaniment by talented dancers.
Kieran Kelly, James Coyle, Donegal actors

Photo used with permission from LMDG

  • Blonde bombshell Eavan Hennessey, the personification of elegance, singing a soaring version of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ from the musical ‘Evita’ created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. If Eva Perón had looked anything like Eavan, I’d definitely have voted for her.
  • Paddy McTeague and ensemble singing so passionately ‘Take Me To Paradise’ from ‘The Celtic Story,’ especially impressive as the last time Paddy performed with the group was 10 years ago.
  • Dressed in black, Katie Porter’s touching rendition of ‘Maybe This Time’ from ‘Cabaret.
Eavan Hennessey Donegal, Evita musical

Photo used with permission from LMDG

It was also wonderful to see how some of fellow neighbors from Gaoth Dobhair played such key roles in the overall evening, including, of course, award-winning maestro and group chairperson, Pluincéad Ó Fearraigh, who deserves high praise for his sterling work over the last several decades in creating such consistently high-quality shows – 22 plays and 23 musicals in total, in Donegal and elsewhere.

And a lady I termed in an inscription in my newly-released suspense novel, ‘Pretty Ugly,’ (linking Donegal to America) as ‘the nightingale of west Donegal,’ Jacqui Sharkey, who sang beautifully, ‘Tell Me It’s Not True,’ from the musical, ‘Blood Brothers.’

39 Steps theater, live theater in Donegal

Photo used with permission from LMDG

Of course, none of the songs would have sounded so good if it had not been for the impressive musical backing from The Band, led by Denise Roper and Pat Campbell.

A deserved standing ovation greeted the whole cast at the finale and there was also one for those members of the music and drama group who sadly passed away during the intervening 25 years and whose images were show on the on-stage screen.

The Letterkenny Music and Drama Group’s next production for the festival circuit is by American playwright Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night.’

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