Pioneer Press 2020 Review

Review: ‘Kickin’ It Irish’ could be your ideal Paddy’s party

Photo by Arun Photography

By ROB HUBBARD | | Special to the Pioneer Press
PUBLISHED: March 7, 2020 at 3:01 p.m. | UPDATED: March 7, 2020 at 6:39 p.m.
Originally published HERE.

Has this ever happened to you? St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and you’d like to do something that celebrates Irish culture. But, when you check the calendar of upcoming Paddy’s-related events, too many don’t match up with your schedule. If only there were a reliably entertaining revue of traditional Irish music and dance that was presented multiple times at a variety of venues. Irish on demand, as it were.

Well, look no further. “Kickin’ It Irish” has become an annual tradition that grows more popular by the year. What began four years ago at the Minnesota Fringe Festival has expanded into two hours of song and dance that packs them in for a fortnight at the Celtic Junction in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. It then moves on to a popular annual performance at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (on the main stage this year) and a St. Paddy’s night date at its biggest hall yet, the genealogically appropriate O’Shaughnessy.

Yes, “Kickin’ It Irish” has evolved into the Twin Cities’ own little “Riverdance.” Which makes sense, as it’s the brainchild of a couple that met during a tour of that 1990s phenomenon, which put Irish step dancing onto the pop culture radar. Cormac O Se and Natalie O’Shea now head O’Shea Irish Dance, and it’s their current and former dance students — ranging in age from wee ones to young adults — who stomp, swirl, spin and gracefully gallop across the stage in “Kickin’ It Irish.”

Based upon the opening night performance, reliably entertaining is a good description. The revue never repeats itself too much with the same steps, the dance routines ranging from decidedly Celtic kick lines to jovial one-upmanship to glow-in-the-dark stepping set to funky electronica. And if you wish to hear Irish traditional tunes played well, the onstage local all-star band will slake your thirst.

O Se shows off his versatility by not only choreographing the show, but acting as music director and accordionist in the seven-piece band. Among others on the riser upstage from the dancers are members of Boiled in Lead, Bua, the Lost Forty, the Two Tap Trio and participants in the All Ireland Music Championships.

OK, that last honor belongs to singer/flutist Aidin Ni She, who proved a showstopper on multiple occasions, her gentle way with a vocal tugging at the heartstrings without being the least bit syrupy or overwrought. She spearheaded a version of Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty” that chugged along like one of the engines on the neighboring BNSF tracks. And her ballads were beautiful, particularly on the arresting arrangements of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” and Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia,” the latter likely making many pine for the auld sod and forget that the song’s about Scotland.

She’s also among the handful of musicians who came down from the risers to display that they know a thing or two about stepping. Conversely, one of the dancers, David Ochs, picked up a fiddle and led the musicians in a lovely composition of his own, “Cobblestone Crow.” But that’s just one slice of what feels like a very fine St. Patrick’s Day party with plenty of opportunities to sing along and send up a whoop when the dancing gets particularly spirited.