Theater Review: THE CHOIR OF MAN (National Tour)

by Lawrence Bommer on March 13, 2019

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

IN PRAISE OF THE PUB

There’s no need for a plot, three-dimensional characters, or conflicts pending resolution — no, not when the setting and its songs sell themselves from the start. That feel-good premise pays off over 80 minutes in The Choir of Man, a British import now playing Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse on its first North American tour.

Cunningly interactive, this happy “happening” (as these pop-up pleasures used to be called) is a tribute to the British pub, an endangered enclave — supposedly 27 close every week — that fuses male bonding with beer. (Exact pub locations usually vary, depending on where the show is playing; in celebration of St. Paddy’s Day, the pub here is Irish.) The Stomp-style concept for this affable creation by Andrew Kay and Nic Doodson is to gather nine generically termed male celebrants in a timeless tavern where everybody knows your name. Here, they’re Narrator, Tapper, Bore, Hardman, Beast, Casanova, Barman, Piano Man, and Joker.

Call it a stationary pub crawl — but the joint is jumping and the joy is actual.

Inviting the audience to party on stage and, selectively, during the one-act, the merry men sing “Welcome to the Jungle” (the name of their bar). The Narrator reminds us of immutable musical inspirations like mom, home, mortality — but no girlfriends in particular (not a shred of sexism from these nice lads).

The good-time guys regale us with jukebox rousers by the likes of Adele, Queen, Paul Simon, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even Broadway (Don Quixote’s “Impossible Dream”). Reveling in boy-band harmony are delights like “Take Me Away,” “Never Look Back,”  “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Hello,” “Piña Colada,” and finally, a heavenly a cappella farewell chorus from long ago. Of course there’s an audience sing-along as well.

Doodson, who also directs, has assembled in Denis Grindel, Matt Cox, Andrew Bateup, Tom Brandon, Peter Lawrence, John Sheehy, Mark Loveday, Connor Going, and Aidan Banyard a kick-ass UK/Irish crew with skills to share. No “pint-sized” talents, they’re adept at tap dancing, playing instruments (including a bagpipe), flexing biceps, cracking wise, or belting brew (and giving them away). Ever eager to give in to “beer pressure,” this glee club can sing up a storm anywhere, even a urinal, and on any occasion.

Just now, with a Brexit-burdened UK fighting a new “battle of Britain,” The Choir of Man, however white-bread or family-friendly, evokes the spunky, survivor side of our limey cousins at their blasted best. They won’t go down without a last lark. So lift a glass already.

photos by Brian Wright

The Choir of Man
presented by Broadway in Chicago
Broadway Playhouse
Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut Street
Tues-Fri at 7:30; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7:30
ends on March 17, 2019, in Chicago
for tickets: 312.977.1710; Broadway In Chicago

for tour dates, visit Choir of Man

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