Only a week ago, in my review of The Mousetrap, I praised the Fulton in their decision to bring a drama back to the mainstage. I will now "double-down", and share how much fun it was to attend a musical in their intimate fourth floor theater.

The Irish...and How They Got That Way is a festive, energetic, creative show. The production team needs to be highly praised for thinking outside the (black) box on this one. Long before the show begins, you are dazzled with the complete transformation of the fourth floor lobby and performance area. You will be convinced that you are in an authentic Irish pub. Green walls, wooden floors, festive decorations and Irish flags surround you. Scenic designer, William James Mohney clearly put extensive time, thought, and detail into a complete Celtic-themed metamorphosis. In fact, my table mate was positive that this was a totally different venue from where she saw Sleuth a couple of months ago.

In one corner of the room is a three piece band. They are responsible for both the atmospheric music and the multiple Irish ballads that are sung by the cast throughout the show. Fiddle player, Stephanie Sullivan, is especially phenomenal.

In a second corner of the room, there is a simple platform that serves as a performing area for some of the more active parts of the show. In the third corner, there is a full working bar. Not only do the actors spend a good amount of time here lifting their pints and swapping stories, but thirsty audience members can get in on the action, too. Before and after the show, and during intermission, the bar is open for patrons to buy a Guinness or a shot of whiskey (or two).

For this show, you do not sit passively, in the back, in neat little rows. Instead you sit right at a pub table, in the middle of the floor. Most folks were seated on a sort of office swivel chair. It seems a bit out of place at first, until the action starts. The chair allows you to spin around from side to side, taking in everything going on around you. Don't be surprised when an actor pulls you up to do a jig with him, or gives you a souvenir potato. This is theater that is highly interactive and immersive.

One small criticism of the immersive atmosphere was the lighting choices. The continuous fluctuations between full lights and dimmers lead to some avoidable audience squinting and eye adjustment.

There really isn't a plot or a traditional list of characters for this show. Instead, it is an entertaining history lesson on the plight of the Irish, their struggles to assimilate in America, and their contributions and achievements in their new home. (I am sure I would have enjoyed history lectures a lot more in college, if we had a working bar in the classroom).

There is a main cast of four. Curt Dale Clark, Peter Cormican, Charis Leos, and Cary Michelle Miller. There was great chemistry among the group and every person got their moment in the spotlight, through song, dance, lecture, and comedy. Gillian Hassert and Jay Poff are also part of the cast and serve as show bartenders and contribute seamlessly to select songs and skits.

I found the songs, skits, lecture, and dances to be both very entertaining and educational. To the best of my knowledge, I have no Irish blood in me, so some of this was new to me. I left the theater with deeper recognition and appreciation for the accomplishments of the Irish.

For the most part, the show does not go overboard with negative Irish stereotypes. One exception was the wake scene All the humor in this bit stems from the extreme excessive drunkenness and emotional explosiveness of the characters. Even though the audience found this part hilarious, it doesn't necessarily validate its content. In the rest of the show, the humor stems from laughing with the Irish, this particular scene requires us to laugh at them.

UPDATE: Irish and How They Got That Way plays at Groff Studio Series at the Fulton now through March 18. Many performances are already sold out, so promptly get your tickets through their website.

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From This Author Rich Mehrenberg

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