FARMINGTON — As co-workers at the Busch Gardens Williamsburg amusement park in Virginia many years ago, Chris Smith and Scott Doherty used to muse about launching their own touring Irish music and dance revue show.
The idea wasn’t as pie in the sky as it might have seemed. Both already were solid show business professionals, as Smith held a bachelor’s degree in technical theater and was a member of the Celtic rock band the American Rogues, while Doherty was a men’s world champion in Irish dance and a veteran of shows touring nationally. The two believed that, despite the popularity of such Celtic-themed shows as Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, there was still an opening for a project that combined top-flight Irish dance with the infectious energy of Irish rock ‘n’ roll.
So when they hit the gym to work out together, they would map out their plans in greater and greater detail. At a certain point, they had to acknowledge the fact that the time for planning was over, and the time for jumping in with both feet had arrived.
But their work was only beginning, as they had to recruit a company of musicians, dancers and technicians, as well as secure financial backing. Finally, five and a half years after they hit on the idea, Smith and Doherty were ready to raise the curtain on the show they had dubbed Rockin’ Road to Dublin.
From the beginning, it seems, there was a meeting of the minds between the two.
“It really was,” Doherty said during a telephone interview last week from Redding, Calif., where the company was preparing to perform before heading east for a show this weekend in Farmington. “We had not only a lot of the same ideas, we’d get super excited about the ideas we’d bounce off each other.”
The two certainly were fans of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance — Doherty, in fact, had served as a company member for both — but they envisioned a show that placed more of an emphasis on Celtic rock, promoting the kind of sweaty abandon that emerges at, say, a Dropkick Murphys concert, famous for its mosh pits and audience sing-alongs.
“I toured in a Celtic rock band, and I always loved the energy that you see when you go to festivals and live concerts all the time,” Smith said.
"That’s what make us different," he said. "All those bands have a great fan base. We’re the only ones doing it all, and we feed off each other.”
While the two partners tended to stick to their own area of expertise when they were putting the show together — Smith put together the band, compiled the set list and oversaw the arrangements while Doherty recruited the dancers and choreographed the performance — they relied on each for feedback and now occasionally stray into each other’s territory.
“Chris came through one day with a dance number,” Doherty said. “He actually figured out the whole number. He listens to me, and I listen to him. It’s a fun and easy work relationship.”
Smith said many of the tunes featured in the show are based on familiar Irish melodies, but the arrangements are all rock based. The musicians who perform those songs need to be not only technically proficient, but have an engaging personality that comes through on stage, he said.
“I’ve been around a lot of amazing bands, but they just sit there,” Smith said, explaining the importance of his musicians having stage presence. “This band is, as I like to say, the A squad. And everybody gets along.”
Most of the dancers in Rockin’ Road to Dublin have performed in other touring shows, and Doherty said he had worked with most of them before.
“These are the best dancers I’ve ever seen on a show stage,” he said. “And they’re good people. We’re one big family. Everyone performs together and works together. Everyone steps up night after night.”
In a show as energetic as Rockin’ Road to Dublin, there’s a great deal of athleticism required of all the performers, so injuries are not unheard of, though Doherty said they happen only sporadically, most frequently consisting of a rolled ankle. When that happens, the choreography is flexible enough to allow the other dancers to absorb the short-term loss of a fellow performer, he said.
“We designed the show so people are going in an out,” he said. “Very rarely are they all on stage at the same time. But the show must go on.”
The company typically does a 40-show tour every spring and a 40-show tour each fall. The show is tweaked during its down time, with a violin part added here or a new bit of choreography introduced there. The show rarely, if ever slows down, so maintaining momentum from start to finish is priority for Smith and Doherty, even as they’re always working to bring a performance to a crescendo by the end.
“We do some instrumental numbers, and there’s a part where we do a rock medley from the eighties set to dancing,” Smith said, describing his favorite sequence in the show, which includes Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” “It’s incredible. You can’t help but smile during that part — there’s no way around it.”
Doherty said the dancers enjoy it as much as the musicians do. “I get to dance to some of my favorite songs,” he said. “I love it.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Rockin’ Road to Dublin
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28
Where: The Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St.
Tickets: $30 and $40 at the Civic Center box office, online at fmtn.org or by phone at 877-599-3331
For more information: Call 505-599-1148