When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Erin go Bragh (Ireland Forever)

Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

It’s time for the final show of the 2022 season at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, and Director David Hogan says “This is a party show.” There are plenty of opportunities to tap your feet, clap your hands, cheer, whistle, and sing along with the immensely talented ensemble cast.

The set is a realistic-looking Irish pub with two bricked side walls filled with framed ads and art, a large bar in front of a wall of bottles, a trio of barstools, and a couple of pub tables, all nestled between two Irish flags. The side walls are also adorned with various musical instruments. Bartender/proprietor Molly (the versatile Actor-Musician Donna Garner) readies the quaint establishment for the spirited regulars, who approach the pub from the aisles singing “If You’re Irish” and playing even more instruments.

The Grandmonts, Jesse and Leah, are mainly known for their fiddles, but their talents go well beyond that. Leah has a beautiful voice, and Jesse not only sings but plays a variety of instruments in this show. Alex Baerg, Matt Ballagh and Brian Barber all pass around the guitars, banjos, and other stringed instruments with Jesse Grandmont, and most of the cast play the keyboard. Dave Robilliard plays percussion in various forms. Donna Garner plays accordion, fiddle and cello, and Mark Payne plays several instruments including accordion and tin whistle. The cast wears casual clothing and shoes, except when Matt Ballagh dons his tap shoes for a lively bit of Irish dancing. It’s a whirlwind of music, dancing, singing and fun!

There’s the usual sprinkling of corny jokes, plus sham Irish accents and some lamenting for a variety of lasses (Rosie, Maggie, Kathleen, etc.), the most crowd-pleasing of which is for a lass named Peggy O’Neil, where Mark Payne’s two hands have to share the keyboard with six other hands. Brian Barber pays tribute to an unnamed Bonny Irish Lass. They also pay tribute to the Irish Rovers with several of their hits, including a fun rendition of “The Unicorn.”

The songs range from serious (“Wild Irish Rose”) to silly (“Mrs. Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” and Mark Payne’s hilarious “The Bricklayer’s Song”) and from upbeat (“It’s a Great Day for the Irish”) to melancholy (“The Fields of Athenry”) along with everything in-between. The famous ballad “Danny Boy” is passionately performed a cappella, a great testament to their vocal talents. While the ensemble group works tightly together as a unit, each cast member has several moments to shine.

The Davids, Hogan and Rogers, have the crowd-pleasing formula and they deliver yet again. You don’t have to be Irish to thoroughly enjoy this fun, upbeat, party show.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling continues at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia until October 9th. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or http://thevpp.ca/

Photo: Left to Right: Brian Barber, Alex Baerg, Jesse Grandmont, Donna Garner, Mark Payne, Leah Grandmont, Matt Ballagh. Photo by Diane O’Dell

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
Conceived and written by David Rogers
Directed and choreographed by David Hogan
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Mark Payne
Performed by Alex Baerg, Matt Ballagh, Brian Barber, Donna Garner, Jesse Grandmont, Leah Grandmont, Mark Payne, Dave Robilliard
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
September 13 to October 9, 2022
Reviewed by Vicki Stokes


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