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BWW Reviews: Musician Michael Ryan Brings Spirited Spirit of Ireland to La Verne

On Sunday March 9, Spirit of Ireland lit up Morgan Auditorium at the University of La Verne with Michael Ryan and seven other electric musicians onstage, as well as lovely singer Cassie Murphy and three award-winning Irish dancers including Caterina Coyne from Riverdance. Part of a monthly program from the University's music department entitled Sundays at the Morgan, the evening was introduced by the interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Felicia Beardsley and turned out to be a real pre-St. Patrick's Day treat for the packed house.

Slides with colorful scenes of Ireland were displayed on a back screen for pre-show enjoyment and the 90-minute show had a wonderfully varied mix of music, which Ryan described as authentically representing Ireland's true spirit in all its quaint, both sad and happy, moments of unique passion. On the bill were the lively "The Humous of Tuaimgreine" and "Both Sides the Tweed", which digs right on into the drinking habits of the Irishman and its wicked perils. Other highlights included: the beautiful expression of love in "Spanish Lady", "the lilting and more well-known "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", "Toora-loora-loo", and the rousing "Whiskey in the Jar", and to be sure, "Molly Malone". Ryan's own composition "Mists of Glenna" offered a poignantly haunting look at the land of Ire and on the humorous side, Danny Oberbeck on mandolin provided some very funny vocalizing on a little ditty called "Only Part Irish" which pretty much described most of us present, who claimed Irish descent. Ryan did an unforgettable duet with Cassie Murphy "Falling Slowly" which won as Oscar as Best Song from the film Once a few years back. This gorgeous song was written and originally performed in the movie by two real Irish musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Murphy essayed a memorable "Last Rose of Summer" and 7 of the 'boys' did a simply beautiful rendition a capella of "Red Is the Rose". On the comical side of the fence there were drinking songs "Bottom of Guinness" and "All for Me Grog" with Oberbeck enchanting us on harmonica and kazoo. The dancers kicked up their heels on "Swallow Tail Jig", "Butterfly Jig" among others and the finale "Marie's Wedding", which Ryan described as the happiest song in the world.

Bravo to pretty Cassie Murphy, the three lovely dancers, award-winning Julia and Tasha Straszewski and Caterina Coyne and to musicians Ryan on guitar, Ken Oderland on mandolin, Hai Muradian on penny whistle and flute, Martie Echito on keyboard, Oberbeck and his son Dylan on mandolin, Julian Johnson on stand up bass, and Bryan Brock on drums. They all rock and have a high-flying chemistry together that is really vital in making this kind of music come alive. A special note to Hai Muradian for his delicious sense of humor throughout and for following through with a wee bit of dancing during the finale. It was short and sweet but uber humorous.

This was a delightful evening of Irish song, dance and mirth, which puts another feather in the cap of Michael Ryan, an associate professor at the college and regular pre-show guitarist at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre. A very talented man, indeed! Happy St. Paddy's Day to 'ya all!

(photo credit: Stan Mazin)

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