Ciaran Sheehan sings a beautiful version of “Danny Boy” in the Irish Repertory’s revival of Frank McCourt’s The Irish…And How They Got That Way but that’s far from the only reason for recommending this refreshing summer breeze from Galway Bay. The show, which debuted on the green-painted premises in 1997 and was revived for the first time in 2000, is a fitting tribute to everything Irish — and, in particular, to the lively, keening Irish songs now popular for eons.
Name the tune, and it’s a sure bet there’s a rendition here as feelingly sung by Sheehan and fellow original cast member Terry Donnelly, as well as Kerry Conte and Gary Troy, all of whom have been directed with Gaelic care by Charlotte Moore and choreographed with Celtic energy by Barry McNabb. Furthermore, the revered ditties are robustly accompanied by music director Kevin B. Winebold, and on violin, mandolin, and bodhran by Patrick Shields.
Not only does the talented cast get around to “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “Mother Machree,” “The Rose of Tralee,” “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra,” “Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?” and “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?”; but there’s also a handful of George M. Cohan favorites, and — as a suggestion of continuing Irish restlessness — U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
In between the songs (which were nicely arranged by the late Rusty Magee), the six entertainers recount the history of the Irish — all without resorting to the word “begorra” or putting on buttons that declare “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.” Instead, they wax serious through many of these segments, particularly when reviewing the 1840’s Potato Famine, the result of which was massive exodus to other countries, most prominent, of course, being the United States.
Also stressed is the long-lasting inhospitable reception on American shores, represented by ubiquitous signs insisting “No Irish Need Apply.” Only the need for railroad workers began to alter the perceptions of the Irish as beneath contempt.
At the top of The Irish…and How They Got That Way, a voice declares, “In the beginning was the word. And the Irish got it!” Those declaring they’ve just heard Frank McCourt aren’t uttering blarney.