Uplifting musical, ‘Are ya dancin’, masks serious social undertones of the ‘1960s

by Rose Barrett
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Toe-tapping and uplifting – but dynamic musical ‘Are ya dancin?’ masks gripping social issues of 1960’s Ireland.
Talk about a two-tiered uplifting stage show – Are ya dancing recently staged at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght had the audience clapping and toe tapping 20

But this is a musical of two levels: when it opened, it was set in a pub in Donegal during the 1960s with a bit of ballad singing thrown in (Molly, my Irish Molly). The landscape is drawn with local youth excited to hear an up and coming band will soon be appearing in the area, and a beleaguered band manager striving to find a lead singer.

Philip Judge and Carol Gleeson play the overbearing father and bullied daughter

Even in the opening scenes, there are serious undertones – a grumpy, alcoholic pub owner who is showing control issues towards his only daughter. We are introduced to a rather shy and unassuming Tommy O’Neill, whose quiet nature seems to be appealing to the local doctor’s daughter.

The main characters and theme has been introduced and poor Tommy finds himself the centre of attention in the parish but will his nerves and shyness be be too much? We get a hint of the big showband numbers to come, the big skirts and high hair are prevalent and the audience awaits a second half of showbiz music and dancing.

Sean Mac Mathúna (Tommy) sings with Dave McGauran and his showband

The dynamic music of the Showbiz Era!

And boy, it didn’t fail to disappoint. Throughout the show we had – “The Hucklebuck”, “Rock Around the Clock”, “Hit the road, Jack”, “Great balls of fire!”, “If I Could Choose” and Dickie Rock’s tender “From the Candystore on the Corner” and many more from Joe Dolan, Butch Moore and all the leading bands of the showbiz era.

But what stunned me on the opening of the second half was the underlying issue of suppressed homosexuality, which was still illegal and a no-no in the holy catholic Ireland of the day.

Actors Kevin Reid, Sean Mac Mathúna and Hugh Gallagher alongside band members

Underlying social issues of the day

Adultery, homesexuality, an abusive father-daughter relationship – light and fluffy was the dancing and music but this musical deals with a plethora of social issues from the 1960s.

Starring Sean Mac Mathúna in the lead role with Helen Spring, Kevin Reade, Carol Gleeson as Mary, Bronwyn Andrews, Daniel Ryan as the geeky Norman (excellent) and Laura Gleeson (delightful performer), Hugh Gallagher, Rory Dignam and Philip Judge who stepped in to replace the abusive father Seamie (Paul Mescal snr had to forego the role owing to a family bereavement), Rory Chadwick and Helena Begley.

I absolutely loved the production from start to finish!

Cast and Crew of “Are ya Dancin'”

Live band a bonus!

Better still, a live ban performed on stage as the emerging showband, with talents Dave McGauran on sax and Mark Adams on trumpet; Darren Bell on guitar, Adam Taylor on bass Ben Cooper on drums and Mick on keyboards. The live band and dancers on stage simply enhanced the overall performance.

Colourful dancers above: Sinead Byrne, Cian McKeon, Aishling Byrne and Grainne Gorman

This show merits a bigger stage!

I’d love to see this on a bigger stage – I could imagine watching this with 20 dancing couples bopping and hopping, jiving and twisting on say, the O2 stage, in Bord Gáis, the Gaiety or the Abbey Theatre! It was really hard to sit still though, and I’d love to have been able to get up and dance.

At one stage, dancers from the show dragged up a few people from the front row, but had there been room, we’d all have been up bopping!

Writers Helen Spring and Carol Gleeson take a bow with cast and musicians

A lovely throwback to the heady days of “The Crystal Ballroom” and “The Television Club” but a musical masking a few sinister social issues back in the 1960s. Well done to Carol and Helen who each played leading roles of Mary and Sarah, and to all the cast, production, musicians, dancers, sound and lighting, etc. Get it onto a bigger stage, please!


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