Susan McFadden was no stranger to the stage when she joined Celtic Woman three years ago. She had extensive experience in theater, with a résumé that included lead roles in Grease and Legally Blonde in London.
But being in Celtic Woman forced her to do something she had rarely done in front of an audience – be herself.
“It’s a completely different like genre and style of performing, because when you’re in a musical, you’re playing a character and approaching it from a different point of view,” McFadden explained in an early March phone interview. “You need to think of it as someone else, and you’re telling a story through somebody else, so it’s very different. And you can kind of hide in that (world).
“So when I came into Celtic Woman, it was one of the very first times ever that I just actually stood on a stage and interacted with an audience as myself,” she said. “I had to kind of dig deep into my own sort of – into myself – to find the meaning in songs and relate to them.
“It was actually a bit scary in the beginning because I’d never done it before. But I love it now and I really enjoy that kind of interaction with the audience and that connection you can have.”
It’s a good thing McFadden has found her comfort zone with Celtic Woman, because she spends about nine months out of the year touring with the group. This year’s U.S. run extends through June and makes a stop at Augusta’s Bell Auditorium at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 3. Tickets are $60-$70 at augustabroadway.com or (888) 706-2929.
This year’s U.S. trek marks a milestone for the group, whose current members are vocalists McFadden, Lisa Lambe and Máiréad Carlin and violinist Máiréad Nesbitt. It’s the 10th anniversary of Celtic Woman, and the show is tailored to fit the occasion.
“We are trying to definitely this year make an effort to put in the songs that people ask for,” McFadden said. “There are songs like Caledonia and Isle of Hope and Danny Boy, and all the songs that people always ask for. We put them back in for this show. It’s special, it’s the last 10 years and we’re also looking back.”
One special twist to the 10th anniversary tour will be the return of three former Celtic Woman vocalists for different stretches of the tour. Original vocalist Maev Ni Mhaolchatha performed with the group until April 8, at which point Lynn Hilary took over the guest slot. Later in the run, Alex Sharpe will step in for Hilary.
“It will keep things fresh. It will keep it interesting,” McFadden said of touring with the three guest vocalists. “And celebrating the last 10 years, it’s nice to revisit voices over the last 10 years, too.”
In all, 11 singers have graced the stage and recording studio with Celtic Woman – violinist Nesbitt is an original member – and they have been part of a group that has gone from being a one-off project to worldwide singing stars.
Originally, Celtic Woman was created for a television special filmed in Ireland. PBS picked up the film of that performance, and it became a popular fundraising program in spring and summer 2005. This helped paved the way for the release of the show as a concert DVD, which sold more than a million copies. Meanwhile, the group’s self-titled first studio album topped Billboard magazine’s world music chart for a record-setting 81 weeks.
By then it was clear that the founders of Celtic Woman, musical director David Downes (and producer Sharon Bowne, who is no longer affiliated), had hit on a winning musical formula by mixing traditional Irish songs, a little light classical, pop standards (the repertoire has included Bobby Darin’s By The Sea, the Josh Groban hit You Raise Me Up and Enya’s Orinoco Flow) and even tunes from musicals and movies (such as Somewhere Over The Rainbow).
Over the next nine years came a steady flow of studio albums and concert DVDs – often released simultaneously (such as the 2007 studio CD, A New Journey, and a concert DVD, A New Journey: Live at Slane Castle, Ireland, and 2012’s Believe studio album and concert DVD).
For McFadden, a 32-year-old native of Dublin, joining Celtic Woman was a chance to go home after being in London since 2005.
“I had been living in the UK, in London, and performing in U.K.-based shows and musicals,” McFadden said. “It (Celtic Woman) was an opportunity to kind of go on the road with Irish people and sing Irish music, which is where we’ve all come from. It’s what we all grew up with. So I think that appealed to me, just to be with my people, my Irish people, and go on the road and tour and perform Irish music. It’s such a small country that it’s incredible to see how our music has spread all over the world and how it means so much to so many people. So definitely, that was an appeal.”