“It’s like a full circle experience for me,” says singer Michael Londra of his return to San Francisco in “Celtic Yuletide” at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre.
“When I first came over to the U.S. in ’99, I was the lead singer with ‘Riverdance’ and we did a month here. It was the best month of my whole tour with the show. My family and best friends came over from Ireland. It just seemed like I was on vacation.”
“It was,” he adds, “a wild time, I will also say. Now I feel like a grown-up which, given the fact I’m in my mid-40s … it’s about time!”
Currently based in Chicago, Londra today opens a three-week run of a holiday show he developed, putting an Eire accent on traditional holiday observances.
As part of promotional activities, he recently appeared, with some trepidation, at the opening of the Safeway Holiday Ice Rink on Union Square.
“Irish fellas don’t skate,” he says. “There’s one ice skating rink in the whole country and there was a big hoo-hah when it opened because there’s no snow or ice in Ireland. So on Union Square I was terrified they’d ask me to skate ... or wear a unitard!”
Instead, he got the pleasure of seeing trained professionals skate to “Beyond the Star,” a song he wrote for his 2009 holiday compilation CD of the same name. “It’s not often you have that experience,” he says. “I felt like a proud Irish boy that day.”
Londra is eager to expand the American public’s concept of Irish culture beyond the vigorous stepping “Riverdance” and “Danny Boy,” too often treated as an oversung aria. He’s long felt both obligation and resistance to that famous song and his recently released recording is a spare, gentle and elegant rendition, which just passed 5 million downloads.
“Irish-Americans have had a tendency to focus on shamrocks, shillelaghs and famine boats,” says Londra. “Ireland, particularly in the past 15 to 20 years, has essentially overhauled itself. Despite the recession of the past two years, it’s a very dynamic, modern society with very modern influences.”
According to Londra, that modern assimilation, combined with a reverence for Irish musical traditions is the very heart of his show, which combines fiddles and bodhrans (drums) with a string section and some electronic instrumentation.
“The whole point,” he says, “is to blend all these influences and put them into the Irish music or take American songs and give them that kind of Celtic feel.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and most Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesdays and this Saturday; 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Dec. 24 and Jan. 1, 2 and 9 p.m. Dec. 31; closes Jan. 1
Tickets: $35 to $100
Contact: (415) 771-6900, www.marinesmemorialtheatre.com