NEW YORK — Former “Riverdance” star Michael Flatley, who helped spark a worldwide Celtic dance craze, will make his long-awaited Broadway stage debut this winter — and then finally hang up his tap shoes.
The dancer and choreographer told The Associated Press that he will bring his current show “Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games” to the Lyric Theatre and, having crossed the last item off his bucket list, retire as a performer.
“Last year, I decided my legs and my back had taken such a beating over the years. I said, ‘You know, it’s time.’ I have a beautiful wife and a lovely, beautiful 8-year-old son and I said, ‘I’ve got to spend more time with them.”’
The 57-year-old put together a list of professional dreams he wanted to accomplish before retiring, which included returning to Wembley Arena in London, playing the London Palladium and performing on Broadway.
“That’s the last dream,” he said. “My wife and my team asked, ‘Is there anything else we haven’t done in this career?’ I said, ‘I’ve never done Broadway and I want to dance in the greatest place in the world.”’
Flatley will take the stage during a limited eight-week engagement that begins Nov. 7 and will play through Jan. 3. He will appear at the encore of each evening show, dancing alongside holographic movies of his iconic dances.
Flatley, born into a blue-collar Irish-American family in Chicago, was catapulted to fame after co-choreographing “Riverdance,” which was first performed as a seven-minute interval break in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994.
He and dancer Jean Butler helped extend it into a full-length show and it opened at Dublin’s Point Theatre in 1995, at a time of renewed Irish optimism and pride surrounding the onset of the booming “Celtic Tiger” economy.
Flatley went on to create his own shows, “Feet of Flames” and “Celtic Tiger.” His “Lord of the Dance” premiered in 1996 and it has been seen by more than 60 million people in 60 different countries, including 400,000 during a five-year residency in Las Vegas.
His current iteration — subtitled “Dangerous Games” — played the London Palladium, the West End’s Dominion Theatre and next month moves to the Playhouse Theatre. The score is by Gerard Fahy and the show includes dancing robots, acrobats and street styles.
“When I started this whole thing, dancers were always the guys in the background,” he said. “I wanted to change that. My dream was that dance could be the main event around the world. My dream was that one day we could compete with the big rock ’n’ roll bands and perform in those big arenas.”
But years of traditional Irish step-dancing — infused with elements of ballet, tap, modern dance and world rhythms — have taken their toll, he said. “My spinal column is in bad shape,” he said, also listing ailments to his knees, calf muscles, two ruptured Achilles tendons, a fractured right rib and a right foot bone fracture.
“It’s time. If this was a football match, I’d be in injury time now,” he said. “I’ve earned it and I’m proud of it and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It was my dream to be a professional dancer, to lead these wonderful young dancers, and it’s a dream come true every day.”
Flatley said he’s passing the torch to young dancers including James Keegan, Fergal Keaney and Morgan Comer. “It’s my honor to bring them to Broadway and shine like the stars I know them to be.”