Last year, while performing during the opening night of Assassins at the Sydney Opera House, Bobby Fox broke his foot, which forced him to take time away from performing. It was during this time, and some dark days, that Fox became nostalgic about his homeland, Ireland – something which, according to the musical theatre star, he hadn’t felt since moving to Australia in 2003.
Fox’s reminiscing led to his creation of a new cabaret show, The Irish Boy, which had its premiere at The Studio at the Sydney Opera House last Wednesday (ironically, the same building in which he was fatefully injured). The show’s debut came only days after the curtain came down on Saturday Night Fever, in which Fox appeared as one of the star vocalists.
While musical theatre fans know Fox originated the role of Frankie Valli in the Australian premiere season of Jersey Boys – a role he performed more than 850 times – fewer are likely to be aware of the extent of his dancing prowess, including the fact that he was a four-time World Champion Irish dancer who toured the globe with Riverdance at the age of 15. And not only can Fox act, sing and dance, but he also possesses impressive skills as a musician.
Directed and co-written by Chris Parker, The Irish Boy gives Fox the opportunity to combine each of his talents as a performer and present a showcase of traditional Irish music, woven together with stories of his years growing up in Longford, Ireland. Across two hours, he recalls a range of events from his earliest years, with talk including his beginnings with Irish dancing on the lino floor of his mother’s kitchen, his successes as a dancer, and his memories of family. And there’s wonderful humour, of course. Throughout the night, Fox’s dancing demonstrates that, one year on from a serious injury, he retains the skills that made him a champion. He’s still a seriously impressive dancer, with his Irish dancing particularly showcased here.
When it comes to the music, those unacquainted with the traditional Irish back catalogue (among whom I count myself) are unlikely to recognise some of the songs that Fox has included in this show. But that shouldn’t be a deterrent to anyone, as this is music that doesn’t need to be familiar in order to be enjoyed. Fox and his remarkable five-piece band (David J Andrew, Tom Botting, Mark Oats and Tom Waller are led by musical director, Glenn Moorhouse) bring the setlist to life with reproductions that are exciting and effervescent, quickly bringing the audience on board. There are also some gorgeous downtempo moments that are some of the highlights of the night. Among those is a sweet delivery of Jimmy McCarthy’s folk number ‘Ride On’, and Declan O’Rourke’s ‘Marrying the sea’. There’s also Fox’s simple but powerful acapella version of ‘She moved through the fair’, which is a standout. No Irish setlist would be complete without ‘Danny Boy’, which allows Fox to deliver an emotional punch with soaring vocals in an updated version of the classic, while ‘The Auld Triangle’ is moving, Celtic prison poetry at its best, and uses the full capacity of the band.
There are also those moments where Fox doesn’t sing at all. Playing his two-row button accordion, Fox performs ‘Slip into the spring’ by Bill Whelan, which was written for Riverdance. And while traditional sounds permeate this evening of music, Fox and his band succeed in infusing a wonderfully fresh and contemporary flavour into the performance of these songs.
At the centre of everything is Fox, who has worked with Parker to package his many talents into a presentation that is warm and full of authenticity. While the leading man is performing the music he wants to perform, his audience has been kept front and centre of his mind, with a show that is very much a crowd-pleaser and very much about entertainment. Be sure to catch Fox’s jubilant celebration of his homeland on the road.
THE IRISH BOY
Starring Bobby Fox
Musical Director: Glenn Moorhouse
Director: Chris Parker
Produced by Enda Markey
ADELAIDE CABARET FESTIVAL
Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Dates: Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June 2019
Duration: 2 hours
Price: $64.90 – 79.90 plus booking fees
Bookings: adelaidecabaretfestival.com.au or 131 246
Venue: The Art House Theatre
Date: Saturday 22 June 2019, 8:00pm
Duration: 2 hours
Price: $42-49 plus booking fees
Bookings: thearthousewyong.com.au or 4335 1485