March 1, 2010
One of the liveliest places in town this month will be Robinson Theatre in Waltham as The Reagle Players present "A Little Bit Of Ireland." Conceived and directed by Reagle Executive Producer Robert J. Eagle, the impressive revue of uniquely Irish entertainment offers something for everyone, from classic step dancing to pub music, lullabies, standards, reels, jigs, comedy and a magnificent troupe of harpists. Performances run March 12 - 14.
Performers set to appear in this year's show, the revue's 12th annual edition, include:
Liam Harney, two-time World Champion Irish Step Dancer and founder of the Harney Academy of Irish Step Dancing in Walpole. Harney took over from Michael Flatley to star in the London production of "Riverdance" and is currently touring in his own Irish dance show, "Celticfusion." In demand from Ireland to Australia, he has appeared everywhere from Lincoln Center to The Grande Theatre of Chile.
Gifted soprano Sarah Pfisterer, who has starred in the Broadway productions of "Phantom of the Opera" and "Show Boat" in addition to appearing in Regale productions of "The Sound of Music," "Carousel," "The Music Man" and "Beauty & The Beast."
The Massachusetts Harp Ensemble, founded by Judith Ross, who has taught everywhere from Boston University and The New England Conservatory to the State University College of NY and the Longy School of Music, where she is former Chair of the Theory Department.
Musician Larry Reynolds. Born in Galway and living locally since 1963, the renowned fiddler helped create the Boston Chapter of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (Irish Musicians Association) Named one of the Top 100 Irish-Americans by Irish America Magazine, Reynolds has played for Irish presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAliskey. He will perform at Reagle with Comhaltas.
Also featured is comedian Jerry Walker along with vocalists Rusty Russell, Eric Sachs, and Katie Ford, among others. Rounding out the huge company of musicians and soloists is a 30-member chorus as well as a stageful of dancers from The Harney Academy.
Robert J. Eagle founded Reagle Players 1969 as a summer theater venture for talented high school and college students. At the time, he was a teacher and administrator in the Waltham School system. As the group's reputation grew, so did their scope. "The ages kept creeping up each year," Eagle said with a laugh. From the very beginning, Reagle's mission has been "to present the most professional productions by recreating the original Broadway productions whenever possible, from sets and costumes to choreography and direction."
As his reputation built, Eagle was eventually able to work with Actor's Equity to bring in top-name entertainers to star with his company of local players. With a highly competitive audition process, the award-winning company now produces three musicals each summer starring Broadway professionals as well as regional amateur talent.
To help build audiences and maintain a sound fiscal foundation, Eagle seized on an opportunity to expand his programming by staging seasonal revues. The seed for "A Little Bit Of Ireland" was planted more than a decade ago when Eagle met with Larry Reynolds. Like many of the talented artists Eagle has called upon through the years, Reynolds is a local guy - a resident of Waltham.
Eagle remembers in his trademark understated style, "I just thought it would be a fun show to do. To celebrate, particularly in this area, Irish heritage." A dozen years later, it ranks as one of his most popular ventures, along with an annual Irving Berlin Salute and the company's holiday production, "It's Christmastime" (which has now been seen by more than 200,000 people).
Another obvious local link has been with Liam Harney, who had worked with and trained many of the dancers in the past. One day Eagle simply said to Harney, "'How about dancing?' His response? "Well, I suppose so."
Eagle says, "He's quite wonderful." The masterful Harney appears in several spots in the show, with one major solo in addition to dancing with students from his school.
Eagle is particularly excited about the Massachusetts Harp Ensemble, under the direction of Judy Ross, who creates all the group's arrangements. "They do a medley of three numbers and then back up two other numbers in the show," he said, "including 'The Irish Blessing' at the end of Act One, which is the chorus and soloists and all the harps."
"[Judy] plays harp for Reagle whenever we have need for a harpist," Eagle said. Acknowledging how tricky it can be maneuvering one instrument as large as a harp let alone ten, he said, "Judy has a little home in Burlington and they have to break down the rehearsals because she can only fit so many harps in her living room at one time. When you see them coming in, there are all different sizes - some giant, some smaller. The sound is quite beautiful."
And then there's Sarah Pfisterer, who has become an integral part of the Reagle family. And it all started with a phone call.
"Actually she called me," Eagle explained. "I was in the English Department then, and she called me one day at lunch time. We were about to audition in New York for 'Show Boat,' and she wondered if she could audition . . . I nearly fell over on the spot. I knew who she was; I had seen her on Broadway doing 'Show Boat' . . . She eventually came and was hired. And then [Broadway producer] Harold Prince came along and asked her to go back into 'Phantom' on Broadway, which of course, she couldn't give up. She went back in until the birth of her first child, but she promised she would do whatever to make up for it, and she's done several summer shows [for us] as well as the Irish show and the Christmas show. She's quite special."
Comedian Jerry Walker is also a favorite. "He's in the style of Hal Roach. He gets an incredible response. I can't think of anyone in my 42 years getting such open and riotous laughter. Story after story after story. It's an assault actually of sound. Boy, there aren't many shows that that happens in."
And with that, Eagle was back to business, with the sound of penny whistles and bodhrans in the distance.
Reagle Players' "A Little Bit Of Ireland," March 12 - 14, Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street in Waltham. For information and tickets: 781-891-5600. reagleplayers.com.