By William Wolf

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The Irish Repertory Theatre has a colorful, highly entertaining production with its revival of “Donnybrook!,” the 1961 Broadway musical based on the noted John Ford movie “The Quiet Man,” which in turn was based on the short story by Maurice Walsh. The strong cast and the sprightly direction by Charlotte Moore combine to make for a happy theatergoing experience. Interestingly, the performance on the compact stage of the company gives the show a welcome intimacy that might be lost in a more lavish setting. The warmth and humor in “Donnybrook!” rise to the surface dramatically in the cozy environment.

The casting of James Barbour, who has a great musical theater voice as evidenced by his performance in “A Tale of Two Cities,” is a coup. Barbour earnestly plays successful boxer Sean Enright, who comes from America to Ireland’s Innisfree with a vow never to fight again. Jenny Powers is another winner as the feisty co-lead Mary Kate, also with an excellent voice and charm to go with the romance that quickly blossoms. The music and lyrics by Johnny Burke provide them ample opportunity to soar, and the book by Robert E. McEnroe offers the easy-going framework for the plot to engage.

I forgot that it was this show that yielded two perennial favorite songs, “It Could Happen to You,” appealingly sung by Powers and supporting cast members Mary Mallen, Barbara Marineau and Terry Donnelly, and “But Beautiful,” performed by Powers and Barbour. (It turns out that I didn't "forget." A check shows that those numbers, with lyrics by Burke and music by Jimmy Van Heusen, were not in the original, but were inserted by director Moore as part of the assorted changes she made.) Other numbers, romantic and comic, make for a tuneful show. The local characters of Innisfree provide the opportunity for lively casting and a well-balanced production. Complications and macho demands force Sean—no surprise—to finally use his fists in a mini donnybrook that has as much good cheer as hostility.

Director Moore, abetted on occasion by Barry McNabb’s choreography, captures the spirit of life built around the pub of Kathy Carey (delightfully played by Kathy Fitzgerald). Moore weaves the romantic elements into the whole with ease and knows exactly what to highlight in making the show come together as a total confection. One leaves feeling very good indeed.

A salute is due the entire company, including those not yet mentioned--Patrick Cummings, David Sitler, Kevin McGuire, Kern McFadden, Samuel Cohen and Ted Koch, the latter giving a strong performance as Mary Kate’s possessive brother Will. Musical direction is by John Bell, who also plays piano and conducts the rest of the skillful ensemble—Karen Lindquist, harp, Suzy Perelman, violin and Melanie Mason, cello.

The production is another addition to the Irish Repertory Theatre's 25th anniversary season. The company, co-founded by Artistic Director Charlotte Moore and Producing Director Ciarán O’Reilly, has earned a solid place on the off-Broadway scene with a reputation for quality work and a loyal following. At 132 West 22nd Street, $55-$65. Phone 212-727-2737. Reviewed February 18. 2013.


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