McGoldrick’s Thread is an inspiring musical directed by Kira Simring which takes us back to the last century, the 1990s in the Bronx, NY. This is a slower paced time without Blackberries, iPhones, Androids, Dancing with the Stars and, dare the names be whispered? FACEBOOK and TWITTER. The most frenetic activity in the area is the step dancing in Mr. Duffy’s Irish Dance classes in which many of the neighborhood kids have enrolled. Also in the Bronx lives a family of six who are the heroes of this story, Irish immigrants who are finding it hard to make ends meet and thus have to husband every penny carefully. However, they manage to get by with their love, great good humor, and the threads of dance artistry and creative talent. They are also encouraged by a few family myths that include gold and faeries.
Such is the stuff that dreams are made of, and Marianne Driscoll, who wrote the book and the lyrics along with Eliot Riskin, and Ronnie D’Addario who wrote the music, have spun their golden moments into this sweet, uncomplicated and uplifting story about the hope of a teenage girl’s dance dream being realized. The play expresses the simplicity of family values without stuffing them down your maw with a self-righteous and superior tone. The emotional textures of warmth, joy and the celebration of life and laughter trump material luxuries. In our current time and place, it is a message that sits well. Because the story unfolds in an interesting way, peppered with music and dance numbers integrated logically, these themes are subtly laced into the plot, and the last thing one thinks about is polemic and conservative rhetoric about the necessity for a family to stay together.
The values and simplicity of the play work because of the straightforward intent and honest goodwill of the director and the design team, and because of the skillful and talented cast, who portray these homely characters with logic, grace and an emotional sensitivity which is utterly refreshing. It is a pleasure to see a family struggling, but not with the usual dysfunctional, angst, despair, head-banging torment and pill-popping anesthetization against the horrors of living the nightmare. It is lovely to sit through a production where the characters and cast portraying them reveal clear intentions and encourage one another to “go for it” supported by a network of friends. Life is not all honey and peaches and it can be a bitch, but when family is there for you, maybe all things can become possible, especially if you believe.
This encouragement is catching and we end up cheering with the characters by the end of the production and especially during some excellent dance numbers. The superb talents of the lead step dancers, Garrett Coleman (who portrays Eddie Callahan) and Jason Oremus (who plays Mr. Duffy), and the choreography, especially in the flashback to Ireland and the dream sequence, are surprising. The step dancing is engaging and just plain phenomenal.
Some musical production numbers work better than others. The finest moments surround the family’s interactions at home, when they sing songs about simple things (including the flashback to the dance back in Ireland where the mom and dad met). One musical number concerned the father’s and brothers’ need to have particular conditions met (dinner at 6:00 pm, stew for dinner, wearing their team jerseys, etc.) on a TV-watching game day. The Dad (a wonderful Peter Cormican), three lyrical-voiced sons (Paul Nugent, Conor McIntyre and John Charles McLaughlin) and their mother, Marion (an excellent Elizabeth West), a spot-on Irish mum, carry on about how these conditions will help their team win. The effect is funny as are the lyrics with appropriate light music.
The cast makes it work and the scene is reminiscent of the family scene in Silver Linings Playbook where the Dad had to have things just so for his team to bring him the money. Family TV watching dated from the ’60s and ’70s before everyone had TVs in their own rooms and watched the shows they wanted by themselves (with the exception of holiday football games). But the scene is a luscious throwback and adds to the message of the strength of family bonds bringing hope and success.
How does the story turn out? Does Magee (an engaging and exceptionally talented Casey Murray), the teenage daughter, embrace the dream with her faith, enough for the dream to manifest despite all the difficulties and obstacles? That has to do with the crux of what McGoldrick’s Thread is about, what it means to the characters and what it means to the audience. This is above all a play of faith and family, something possibly lost and forgotten at a time when it is most needed. But then maybe it hasn’t been lost at all, only deeply embedded in our hearts, waiting for a production like this to stir it up with its songs and especially its thundering and rhythmic dance steps.
See McGoldrick’s Thread to be inspired and to evoke what can never be lost in the human mind and heart. McGoldrick’s Thread is part of the 1st Irish Theatre Festival 2013. It is at Theatre 80 at St. Marks until September 29.