In Arts & Entertainment

Celtic Woman will bring its holiday tour to the Riverside Theater Wednesday night. (PHOTO: Celtic Woman Facebook)

Celtic Woman brings soaring holiday music to the Riverside

We've finally got snow, the shopping and wrapping are under control, the tree is ready for decorations and the grocery lists are finished.

All we need to complete the pre-Christmas stroll is some great Christmas songs sung to a sweeping orchestral arrangement by great looking and outstanding singers.

Well, worry no more, Celtic Woman is on the doorstep.

Wednesday night at the beautiful and historic Riverside Theater, the four women will bring their "Home for Christmas: The Symphony Tour" to Milwaukee. What's in store is two acts of 20 or so songs that will have members of the audience listening in rapt and breathless attention when they aren't humming along.

Back in 2005, David Downes, the musical director of Riverdance, took some Irish singers and a fiddler, put them together and called them Celtic Woman. Following its debut on PBS in 2005, the group achieved massive success encompassing 10 chart-topping albums, eight DVDs and nine public television specials, leading to sales of over ten million albums with platinum success in nine countries and, most recently, a Grammy nomination. As a touring powerhouse, Celtic Woman has performed for over 4 million fans across 23 countries and six continents, with an especially devoted following in America.

Susan McFadden, the mezzo of the group, is also the longest tenured member in the current makeup. She joined the group in 2012 after successful training in her home of Dublin and then moving on to a varied and successful musical theater career throughout the United Kingdom.

"It was a big change, moving from theater to the concert stage," McFadden said when I talked with her last week. "The biggest was that being on stage in a character, you are someone else. You can hide behind your character a little bit.

"But now I'm on the stage as myself. Just myself. There is no pretending to be anyone else. At the beginning, I was terrified to interact with the audience, let people see my personality. Now I find it liberating. I can sing songs as myself, the way I want them to be sung. First, it was kind of nerve wracking, having to interact with an audience. It was a complete departure for me. But now I love it. Every second of it."

The Milwaukee stop is in the middle of a 16-city tour that will wrap up two days before Christmas Eve. And if there is one thing that stands out when these three singers and one fiddler are on stage, it's that the production will be as smooth and emotional as you might ever see.

Watching Celtic Woman is like watching three Celine Dions on a stage, except these women sing better and carry more genuine emotion. They are at ease with their music, and it shows in an evening that is without tension or overproduction madness.

It may be easiest to explain this phenomenon by saying that they create an atmosphere of a gentle peace with their music. The music they sing was meant to lift spirits of the lonely and put a smile on the face of the sad, and Celtic Woman understands that task and brings it alive each time they take the stage.

Perhaps one way to sum up this group is to say that they never get in the way of the song. They know the music and lyrics carry the meaning, and they sing them from their hearts.

As a lead actor in theatrical musicals, McFadden often sang solo with backing singers. With Celtic Woman, there are lovely moments of soaring harmonies.

"I find harmonies a learning experience," McFadden said. "It helps to unlearn an old song and sing a new version. For example, we've had about five different versions of 'Danny Boy.'"

The tour blends familiar carols with some lesser known Irish songs – and my Christmas wish is for them to do the moving and joyful "Mo Ghile Mear," a staple for the group and a song that captures all the essence of love as well as any you may hear this season.

This version is from two years ago.

Celtic Woman performs Wednesday and information on tickets is available here.

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