Behind the Scenes with Brian O’Donovan from A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.

Lisa Condit spoke with Brian O’Donovan about A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn, music and so much more. Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Then tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

Lisa: Thank you all for listening today to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover theatre. I am thrilled to be here with Brian O’Donovan. Believe it or not, we’re going to be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day literally on March 17 with A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn with Brian O’Donovan. Welcome, Brian! It’s been a long time, it’s so good to hear from you.

Brian: My goodness, it’s great to be back with you, Lisa. So much has happened, it seems like time has kind of acquired a strange set of characteristics. On the one hand, it seems like a long time. And on the other hand, it seems as if the last two years didn’t happen. You know, it’s amazing.

St. Patrick's Celtic Sojourn
Maeve Gilchrist. © Tim Rice Photo

Lisa: I know. And on St. Patrick’s Day, you know, in Worcester and central Mass, we’re all Irish on March 17. We all love the Celtic Sojourn, so I know you’re going to have an enthusiastic audience. As always, your show is priced so that it can be enjoyed by all. Tickets start at just $25, which is incredible, and you have a whole lineup of dancers, singers, musicians and, of course, you as a storyteller. Tell us what we can look forward to this year.

Brian: Well, we have put together a very diverse group of folks. Our goal on St. Patrick’s Day is to really give access to a broad swath of what Irish culture is all about these days, and that is really to enjoy it with music and song and dancing and poetry in a very, very welcoming way. In order to do that, we create a good old fashioned variety show, essentially, employing the most amazing musicians and dancers and singers that we can get our hands on. That’s always been a challenge, but particularly in the shadow of the pandemic, we have an additional challenge with people finding it difficult to travel from overseas with various restrictions. But this year, I’ll be honest with you… We’ve just gone through the setlist with our music director Keith Murphy, and we have a show that I’m positively… I’m kind of giggly about it. It’s going to be amazing! Honestly, with the variety of music we have and the musicians we have, I think it’s going to leave people breathless.

Lisa: Oh, I love it. Tell us more so that we all feel giggly too.

Brian O’Donovan. © Tim Rice Photo

Brian: Well, Keith Murphy is back with us. He brings a lot of the influences of the Maritimes, he’s from Newfoundland and makes his home in Vermont, but he brings that kind of whole Irish scene that came in through Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland, down into Quebec, and incorporates some of that music into his repertoire and his approach. We have this harper and Gaelic singer called Dominique Dodge, who is just extraordinary as well. Ship in the Clouds is a quartet made up of a couple of twin fiddlers who have been with us in the past, Nathan Gourley and Laura Feddersen. I will remind you, Lisa, that we actually were supposed to be at The Hanover Theatre the day that the world shut down. We were supposed to be there on March 12, 2020. We had gotten one of those shows in the night before in Rockport, and were heading to Worcester when I had to call Troy and say that we just can’t come. We each agreed that that we had to shut everything down. It’s really going to be extraordinary to come back under these circumstances. So, Ship in the Clouds will be with us, they’ll get a chance to finally deliver on what they rehearsed two years ago. They’re going to be on stage with us, along with Natasha Sheehy, who is a young accordion player from Ireland. We have Anna Colliton, an amazing bodhran player, which is an instrument that people love to see. Alasdair White is going to be joining us, he is a fiddler from Scotland. Torrin Ryan, who is a young Uileann-piper, part of a new group of young Uileann-pipers based here in the U.S., he is from Rhode Island. And we have Ashley Smith-Wallace, who’s going to bring a bunch of dancers for what promises to be a triumphant return to the Hanover Theatre on St. Patrick’s Day itself.

Lisa: Yes, triumphant is right! I have been back at The Hanover Theatre with a couple of other shows and the audiences are so excited to be back. It’s electric, it’s magic. St. Patrick’s Day is going to be even more magical, as you said, as we celebrate the triumphant return of the Celtic Sojourn.

Anna Friel (of The Friel Sisters), Katie McNally, Keith Murphy. © Tim Rice Photo

Brian: Absolutely, that’s exactly how we feel as well. I think it’s an important thing to, out of the darkness and isolation that we have been through, really remind ourselves of our humanity, and to do so in the comfort of each other. And honestly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, given world events that we’re all going through currently, how important the arts are to remind ourselves of kindness, concern and empathy out there through music and celebration. Yes, of our Irish heritage because it St. Patrick’s Day, but by extension of the joys of ethnicity, generally, when they’re shared with other folks in a joyful and generous way. That’s what we intend to do.

Lisa: Absolutely. And uplifting is no exaggeration when I think about you, your performers, the shows, being back together… And you know, I always like to ask, is there one particular part of the show that you really looking forward to sharing with us?

Brian: Well, I must say that one of the joys for me during the St. Patrick’s Day show is that we pay tribute to The Clancy Brothers and the joy of singing together. We teach the audience the chorus, and we’ve been doing it so often that we hardly even need to teach it anymore. But it’s the idea of the voices being raised in unison, on the chorus of a song called The Leaving Of Liverpool, and I’ve gotta tell you, it rings out there. In Worcester, it shakes the rafters of that beautiful theater. There was something resonant, literally and figuratively, in people’s voices joined together. To sing together does something, as I said earlier, that reminds us of our humanity and the power of music to bring us together.

Lisa Condit: I can pretty much guarantee that everybody’s gonna be smiling when they leave the theatre. What’s been the feedback so far?

Claire Friel (of The Friel Sisters), Katie McNally, Neil Pearlman (piano), Pascal Gemme. © Tim Rice Photo

Brian O’Donovan: It’s been very, very, very enthusiastic. You know, everybody’s kind of like poking their heads out. We recognize as you do as well, Lisa, that is a trepidatious time for folks. They’ve been told to stay indoors, keep your distance, put your mask on, but as long as people are back and boostered and don’t have underlying conditions, the indications are that they should get out and live their lives because our mental health and our emotional health, depends on it. Our community has depends on it. We can get back to trying to live our lives in a way that celebrates our community and the great traditions that we have built here in New England. We hope people will consider that supporting the artists and supporting institutions like yours will have such an impact on the quality of life in Worcester. We look forward to being a small part of that on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Lisa Condit: Absolutely. It’s a great way that just get out there and enjoy the city. We’re coming back, we’re coming back strong, and we’re so glad you’re a part of it. Anything else you want our listeners to know?

Keith Murphy. © Tim Rice Photo

Brian O’Donovan: Well, just to know that that we’re beyond excited to be back on the road. We’re going to others at theatres as well, but Worcester has a special place in our heart. One of the things I always say about the Worcester audiences is that they come already enjoying themselves. They kind of just make it this day. They leave their troubles outside. You’ve got a beatiful theatre and that a powerful, powerful organ that you have. We look forward to getting everybody in the mood for what promises to be a great show.

Lisa Condit: Oh, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. This has been Brian O’Donovan, and again, we’re so excited about A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn on March 17. Get your tickets now at TheHanoverTheatre.org.