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Heartbeat of Home: Jerry Nunn one-on-one with Andy O'Reilly

"It is a very high energy show so we all have to make sure we are on the top of our game."

by Jerry Nunn
The latest Broadway in Chicago show Heartbeat of Home debuts in America stopping first in the Windy City. Created by the producers of director of Riverdance, this show combines Irish, Latin and Afro-Cuban dance mixing it up. The cast of 37 and a ten piece band all work together to make an unforgettable experience.

Jerry Nunn spoke with one of the cast members Andy O'Reilly who is the Irish dance captain along with being a member of the troupe. This foot stomper started at the Sean Eireann McMahon Academy at the age of nine. Along with a tour of Celtic Tiger with Michael Flatley he also had the honor of performing Riverdance for Queen Elizabeth II in Dublin and in Radio City Music Hall.

Get to know the behind the scenes life of a traveling dancer in this interview.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Andy. I just went and saw your show.

AO: (Andy O'Reilly) How wicked!

JN: I watched for you as best as I could. It is hard to keep up with so many dancers onstage.

AO: You have to be pretty fast.

JN: Was this the first time you have been to Chicago?

AO: This is my first time playing in Chicago. I actually came here for a high stomp competition back in 2001 I think it was. This was my first time in a decade anyway.

JN: What was the competition called?

AO: It's called the North American National Irish Dance Championship and they go to different cities in America every year.

JN: Where are you from originally?

AO: I am actually from England.

JN: How did you get to be a dancer in the first place?

AO: My dad is Irish so when he saw Riverdance on television and found out it was becoming a full scale show, he flew my whole family over to Dublin to see its very first run there in the Point Theatre. I just got hooked on it. I loved the show so much. I begged my parents for classes for a whole year. I practiced in front of my TV to the Riverdance video. They finally gave in and took me to some classes.

JN: Is this type of dancing hard to learn?

AO: Yeah, it is very tricky and technical. Basically I started when I was nine years old. You never stop learning really. It takes years and years to get up to professional standards.

JN: Do you ever get shin splints?

AO: No, I don't get shin splints. I have had my ankles roll but I have been quite lucky with injuries really.

JN: Do you have to learn multiple parts in case a cast member is hurt?

AO: Yes. We are all pretty flexible, we can go in and out of different dances when we need to because obviously injuries do happen so we can step in as needed.

JN: Is there a special shoe or floor to make the sounds?

AO: What we have is called heavy shoes and what the Irish dancers dance in. They are what makes all the sounds. When there is a different style of dancing called soft shoe dancing that is where it is a more energetic dance. It is more about bounce and lift. That doesn't make sound. It is more about the tricks you can do in the air. So we have two types of shoes for Irish dancers.

JN: The producers of Riverdance did this show?

AO: Yes.

JN: Were they trying to update the original and make it more hip?

AO: They wanted to reflect the Ireland of today. Riverdance was 20 years ago and is in a different place now than it was back then. It is now a more multicultural place and they wanted to reflect that in the dancing. That is why they chose that with the Latin part, Afro-Cuban, and flamenco. It is for the next generation.

JN: For a very hip generation with amazing hips! There were shirtless and perfect bodies up on stage there.

AO: [laughs] Yeah. You have to be super fit. It is a very high energy show so we all have to make sure we are on the top of our game.

JN: What do dancers eat to maintain bodies like that?

AO: We are quite lucky because we do eight shows a week so you can kind of eat whatever you like as long as you stay with high energy foods like pasta and lots of protein. I don't have to watch too much. I can have a dessert because we use up the energy in the show.

JN: You can have some Chicago pizza while in town.

AO: Yes, definitely!

JN: This is the first time in America and in Chicago.

AO: We started the tour in Toronto and this is the first American city we have done. It is the American premiere.

JN: I am going for World Pride in Toronto this June and love the city!

AO: I do too. I just loved it. I saw lots of publicity for World Pride while I was there.

JN: You worked with legendary Michael Flatley. How was that?

AO: That was actually my first show. It was one of his new shows called Celtic Tiger. I was lucky enough to be chosen for that. I did it for three months. It was so fun and a really good experience.

JN: Your parents must have been really proud if they were fans of Riverdance.

AO: Oh they were so happy especially when I got into Riverdance. We did a big UK tour and my parents used to follow us around to every city to come and watch me!

JN: They are your biggest fans. You danced for the Queen of England. Were you nervous?

AO: Yeah I was absolutely nervous. Security was tight so we were in our dressing room and we were walked down to the theater to dance for her. You could see her in the audience and it was amazing.

JN: That would be hard to make my legs move [both laugh]. Many dancers are straight but are there many gay dancers in Heartbeat of Home?

AO: It is a good mix, probably around 50/50.

JN: That's what I guessed from watching. So a well rounded cast?

AO: Yes, well rounded cast in every way.

JN: The structural steel beam scene was a highlight.

AO: That is actually my favorite scene. It is just so iconic with the photograph that goes along with that. It is very fun to dance and the audience always has a great reaction to it.

JN: Where is your next stop?

AO: We go to Detroit next then Boston.

JN: When do you get to go home?

AO: I am going back to England in April.

JN: Are you doing anything fun while in Chicago?

AO: We have four shows over the weekend but maybe some time during the day. I would like to check out the sights of Chicago.

Catch Heartbeat of Home before it dances out of town at the Oriental Theatre, 151 W. Randolph with a final performance on March 16. Call 800-775-2000 or check online at BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets and showtimes.
 
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