‘Choir of Man’ serves up plenty of tunes and brews but little substance
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“The Choir of Man” is a good time, but it’s also a deeply strange one. This charmingly flimsy UK import is more jukebox than musical; a lovely choir concert of pop covers over which creators Andrew Kay and Nic Doodson (who also directs) have decided to lay a thin veneer of fiction. For what reason? It’s not entirely clear.
Featuring a line-up of nine appealing gents who cover a raft of Top 40 hits, the show’s a business decision masquerading as something genuine, like an algorithmically-generated playlist trying to pass itself off as a lovingly handcrafted mixtape. It practically crackles with eldritch normcore energies. Did I mention that it’s also a really good time?
‘The Choir of Man’
When: Through March 17
Where: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
Run time: 90 minutes
“The Choir of Man” is set inside an old-fashioned English pub named The Jungle, a name that doesn’t quite feel right but that does allow the lads to sing “Welcome to the Jungle” as the evening’s opening number. Already, something is askew, as that slithery Guns N’ Roses aggression is miles away from “The Choir of Man’s” friendly, homespun vibe. (Really? These nice young gentlemen are going to “watch us bleed?”) This sense of uncanniness is only sharpened by the song’s arrangement, which squeezes it through the same genial folk rock filter as (almost) every other song in the show. “The Choir of Man” may be set in a pub, but its sound hails more from the coffee shop, a style best described as “a cappella, but with a band.”
According to Irishman Denis Grindel, who does the lion’s share of the talking, this particular pub has itself a resident choir, hence all the singing. (We don’t need the justification, but it’s nice to see them show their work.) Grindel introduces his eight co-stars as a series of stock types like The Bore, The Joker, and the Hard-Man, but none of the characters leave much of an impression, save for Peter Lawrence’s burly yet sensitive Beast. These men are supposed to be working-class blokes, but there isn’t much that’s bloke-ish about them, no matter how much Grindel’s monologues insist upon their blue-collar bonafides. These are song-and-dance men, through and through.
The “Choir of Man’s” set list is a curious yet pleasing grab bag of ballads and bangers. Following the aforementioned “Welcome to the Jungle,”the nine-man crew dives into the works of Adele, Avicii, Katy Perry, Fun., and others, along with a few one-hit wonders like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and “500 Miles.” When they break into Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” cast member Mark Loveday one-ups Rami Malek by actually singing the Freddy Mercury part. The most striking song, however, is an entirely straight-up rendition of “The Impossible Dream,” gorgeously sung by Andrew Bateup. (After showing up in the trailer for “John Wick 3,” that song might also qualify as the show’s one instance of true bloke-ishness.)
In between numbers, Grindel waxes poetic about a lost way of life, a theme that is deeply loaded for an evening of choral pop covers but that’s presented here with an utter lack of guile. There are no load-bearing structures to be had, and so the load, itself, just kind of shoves off into the night, slouching towards some socially aware, morally serious drama that’s interested in unpacking it.
Meanwhile, “The Choir of Man” is left with nothing but tunes and brews, just the way they want it. No matter how many kilowatts of alien voltage may be powering the thing beneath the hood, one can’t deny that “The Choir of Man” is a smooth and pleasurable ride.
Alex Huntsberger is a local freelance writer.