Playing at The Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until January 12
Tour dates and more info: https://choirofman.com/
It’s not often you attend a show and before you can take your seat, you’re invited up to the stage to join the cast in a friendly pint from an actual working bar on the stage floor. But that’s what happens to attendees of The Choir of Man, a rollicking 90-minute singing session with a troupe of likeable British lads who instantly win over the crowd with their warm and friendly demeanour, and have the audience on side even before they start singing, even without the free beer.
The brainchild of theatrical producers Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay, The Choir of Man is refreshingly unpretentious, and boasts an exceptional set, a pub called The Jungle, which authentically mimics a quaint old English pub, complete with gaudy wallpaper and artwork. Propelled by wonderful narration from one of the choir members, we’re invited into the lads’ local and find out this place is a sanctuary for them, a place where nobody is judged, everyone can be themselves and they can sing their hearts out night in, night out.
The great thing about this show is how it makes you forget you’re in a grand old theatre and instantly transports you to the show’s setting, and by the end of the show you’ve been in that pub the entire time. That intangible quality is really what sets this show apart from other theatrical experiences, and their eclectic repertoire of song choices really does mean there is something for everyone here. The chosen songs form a kind of loose narrative and while every tune doesn’t necessarily tie into the characters’ stories or themes of the show, that really matters little when the song performances are so enjoyable.
Opening appropriately enough with Guns N Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle, The Choir also belts out numbers by Paul Simon (50 Ways To Leave Your Lover), Avicii (Wake Me Up), Adele (Hello), Katy Perry (Teenage Dream) and Queen (Somebody to Love), there is also a great deal of audience participation incorporated into the show. From the aforementioned invite before the show to bringing up random audience members to serenade or play a game of beer coaster stacking with them. Often audience members shudder at being dragged up on stage but in a show like this people would be clamouring to join them.
One of the best things about this show is the sheer variety of entertainment the crew deliver. One song (Sia’s Chandelier) is performed a Capella, and during 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, we have one of the gang do a show-stopping bar-top tap dance routine. And every one of the crew get their moment to shine, even the resident bartender, who does a rollicking version of Rupert Holmes’ Escape (The Pina Colada Song), culminating in some amazing gymnastics on stage.
The choreography and chemistry is simply astounding. There’s lots of stage movement going on at all times and with nine members (as well as a few audience members) on stage at any given time things can get hectic, but everything is executed to perfection. There is even some unexpected poignancy, as our narrator talks about how the traditional British pub is sadly disappearing from the world, in favour of trendy new venues, and how the camaraderie and mate ship forged within the walls of these places is an important thing to hold onto. It’s sweet without ever being too sentimental and really well incorporated into the show overall.
The choirs’ vocal range is also incredible, going from gruff and guttural when the song requires it to sounding nothing less than angelic during other numbers. While the show is a true crowd-pleaser in every sense of the term, the team have a treat for local audiences later in their set that will ensure they go home happy, as they belt out their version of a true Aussie classic.
But even without that little nod to local audiences, The Choir of Man delivers extraordinary entertainment from first song to last. The choir is in Melbourne until January 12 but will be touring the country for a further four months after that so there’s thankfully plenty of opportunity to catch them while they are visiting our shores.
With energetic performers, an unexpected collection of tunes and a determination to put a smile on the face of every audience member, The Choir of Man is a toe-tapping triumph.