The era of Irish dance-themed stage productions — which has given us “Riverdance,” “Lord of the Dance,” and “Atlantic Steps,” among others — brings us a new national show: ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN, which began its 60-city tour on Sept. 22 with a performance in Henderson, NC.
For former World Irish Dance Champion Scott Doherty and musician Chris Smith, this dream-come-true began more than five years ago in an unlikely setting — a gym.
Scroll down for our Q&A!
Be Inkandescent: Chris, let’s start with you. How long has ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN been performing?
Chris Smith: From the genesis of the concept to the 2016-17 national tour, ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN has been in the works for more than five years. We’ve been performing the show for three years now, and it’s amazing that the idea Scott and I had one day when we were working out in a gym in 2010 is now a 60-city tour.
Be Inkandescent: Take us back to that day in the gym. What inspired an Irish musician and a world champion Irish dancer to create the next generation of Irish dance?
Chris Smith: We were talking about managers we have had at past jobs, some good and some not so good. We both talked about how we would love to create our own show so that we could run it our way and make the right decisions when it came to show quality as well as how to treat our employees and performers. Both of us already had our own ideas on shows that we would like to create.
The more we discussed these ideas with each other, the more one concept came to light: It was based on fusing our two ideas together to create a live-music Irish dance show with a rock concert feel. What got us the most excited was that this idea had never been done before, so it would stand out in the pack of not just Irish dance shows, but live entertainment shows in general.
Over the next few months we started to come up with ideas for who and what would be in the show — songs we could perform as well as performers and designers we knew who might want to become involved in our project. After a year of talking and creating, we decided it was time to bring the concept to life. I got on the phone and booked a theater a year from that point, which was going to be January 2014, and we were off! We spent that year creating numbers for the show, writing music, getting designers involved, and creating the basis of this show. We premiered the show at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, VA, in January 2014.
Be Inkandescent: Where did you and Scott meet?
Chris Smith: Scott and I first met working at Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park. The majority of the performers, designers, and technicians involved with this show/company have all worked there at some point.
Be Inkandescent: Scott, you are a former Irish World Dance champion. After making your professional debut in 2005 in the North American tour of “Riverdance,” you went on world tours with “Riverdance” and Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance,” and then performed as Lorcan, the lead role in “Gaelforce Dance” in its 2012-13 tours of Europe and Asia.
You have also appeared in the Irish dance shows at Busch Gardens, and in concert with acts such as The Irish Tenors, Cherish the Ladies, Michael Londra, and Andy Cooney. That’s quite a resume. What inspired you to create a show that has been described as “Irish dance meets a rock concert”?
Scott Doherty: The idea for the ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN show came through a series of conversations that Chris and I had about shows we would love to see. I’m an Irish dancer and Chris is a musician who’s played all types of shows, including Irish genres, so we had a lot of similar ideas. We wanted to make a modern show that would speak to people of every age. We thought, “Hey, let’s make Irish dancing cool again.” Why not do Irish dancing with music played by electric guitars, two full drum kits, stuff like that that no one’s done anything like before. And after about three years of work and dedication, we had a show.
Be Inkandescent: So what’s the show like? Is there a plot or narrative of some kind?
Scott Doherty: There’s not a full-on story line to the show, although some numbers tell a story within themselves. We wanted to make a show that people can come to and just be entertained. There are definitely rock elements in the show, but that’s not all ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN is centered around. There are softer, slower numbers that everyone enjoys, as well as upbeat dance numbers. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t overlook the great traditional core that Irish music has, and I really think we’ve found the perfect balance that everyone will enjoy.
Be Inkandescent: What kind of response have you had so far?
Scott Doherty: When we debuted ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN in Newport News, VA, in 2014, it was an amazing success. The feedback we got was incredible. Everyone, old and young, all loved the show. People definitely seem to get what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to reinvent Irish dance shows, we’re just making it cool and relevant again, and in a way that no one has really done before. The fact that people loved it was confirmation that we need to bring the show to bigger and better levels.
Be Inkandescent: How large is your troupe of performers?
Chris Smith: For this national tour, our 24-person cast of performers includes two vocalists, eight live musicians, and a troop of 14 dancers.
Be Inkandescent: Who devises the dance routines and chooses the playlist?
Chris Smith: Scott and I collectively come up with the numbers together. I do a lot of the research on the music, and Scott comes up with the dance choreography. Together we come up with the idea for each number and what we feel best fits the mood of the music for each number as well as the mood and story of the show.
Be Inkandescent: What is your audition and selection process for the dancers?
Scott Doherty: The world of entertainment is small, and the world of Irish dancing is even smaller. I have performed in many major Irish dance shows over the years and met many extremely talented dancers. For these first few years of shows, we have been able to bring in friends of ours as well as fellow dance colleagues with whom we have worked in the past who are now part of the birth of this show. As the show and our company expand, we plan to have auditions for new dancers, as well as other performers, to join our team.
Be Inkandescent: Scott, tell us more about your background. How did you get into Irish dancing? And what was it like to perform in “Riverdance”?
Scott Doherty: After my brother started touring with “Lord of the Dance,” I knew that was what I wanted to do as well. So I sent my name, resume, and a video to all of the big shows, and one day I was lucky enough that “Riverdance” called me to join them. That jump-started my professional career of dancing in shows. It was a dream come true. To get into a show usually depends on what other shows you’ve been in and what your competition results are like. I had done all right in competition, so I was lucky to get into “Riverdance” back in 2005. It wasn’t until after I’d been touring for a few years that I actually won the 2009 World Irish Dancing Championships.
Be Inkandescent: What do you see as the biggest impact of “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance”?
Scott Doherty: “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” definitely paved the way for Irish dancing and how it’s known today. If it weren’t for those shows, people would barely even know what Irish dancing is. Now it’s a worldwide phenomenon that people can’t get enough of. It’s amazing.
Be Inkandescent: What has it been like being one of the guys in charge, as opposed to just being a member of the cast?
Scott Doherty: This is the first time I’ve been hands-on with a production from the very beginning. Chris and I are literally doing everything: show design, performing, office work, setting up the business, and handling contracts. It’s like a crash course in learning how to run a company, but we’re loving it. We also have an unbelievable cast and crew. If it weren’t for them, none of this would be possible.
Be Inkandescent: Tell us about an especially memorable performance venue.
Chris Smith: We have been very fortunate to have performed in great venues with amazing crowd response and support. Scott and I are so lucky to have so many people believe in us and our dream. One stand-out memory is when we performed in Andover, MA, during a massive blizzard in February 2015. There were 10-foot-tall snowdrifts, airports were shut down — it was crazy! We performed two shows there and both shows were sold out.
More than 1,100 people per show came out in the blizzard to watch us and gave us so much love and support. It was amazing to have people willing to do it because they believe in us and our product.
Be Inkandescent: Has there been a particularly memorable or unusual experience at your performances?
Chris Smith: We are very much a “glass half full” type of company. When something goes wrong or something breaks, we quickly find a way to fix it and move on in a positive way. There was one performance where we showed up at the venue, and no crew showed up to unload the truck and help us set up the show. Instead of freaking out, we quickly got on the phone, got all the performers to come in, asked all of our friends and family in the area to come help, ordered some pizza, and went to work! We got the show up and running and performed an amazing show that night despite the setback.
Be Inkandescent: What would you like audiences to take away from your show?
Scott Doherty: This show is a lot of fun, excitement, and energy. We just want everyone to enjoy it. We bring a perfect balance of musical theater, live rock concert, and Irish dancing together in a brand new way that will leave you excited and wanting more!
Be Inkandescent: What are your plans for the future of the company?
Chris Smith: We want to bring this show to everyone. This national tour is our first step toward this goal. This will pave the way to many future tours, including Europe, South America, as well as many other places. We can’t wait to share this fun and exciting show with as many people as possible all over the world.
For more information about the ROCKIN’ ROAD TO DUBLIN show, cast, tour dates, photos, and shop, visit www.rockinroadtodublin.com.