Friday, October 14, 2016

Boys in the Band

Boys in the Band by David Malek and Dale Burridge.  Produced by SMA Productions at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, October 13-15, 2016.

Performers: Mat Verevis, Simon McLachlan, Nana Matapule and Tom Struik.
Band: The Players

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 13

At first I thought I was not appropriately qualified to judge the quality of these four singers’ performances of songs by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Beatles, Jackson 5, Bee Gees, Righteous Bros, Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, Take That, Human Nature, and Backstreet Boys, ranging from the 1950s to the 1990s.  I’ve been around all that time and more, but this kind of pop music in concert was never my ‘thing’.  The point of presenting the show was made, though, since I recognised quite a large proportion of the songs which I must have absorbed by osmosis. 

Then I realised that Boys in the Band is a scripted piece of theatre, not just four guys singing for our enjoyment.  The banter between themselves and with us in the audience was memorised dialogue with a little improvisation.  Each set of songs from each decade included some interspersed history.  After the 1980s, the show was apparently going to finish, but the performers reappeared as if in response to our applause to offer more – the 1990s.  When that ended, it seemed to be the end, but then they appeared again, asking if we wanted more.  Cynically working the crowd, I would call it.

They then performed The Beatles’ Imagine and Let It Be as a finale of significant work – which to my mind proved that Lennon and McCartney were the masters of social conscience, beyond even Simon and Garfunkel, and well beyond most of the others from Smoke Gets In Your Eyes to You Should be Dancing.  And it was interesting to note that the Beach Boys never surfed.

This realisation meant I can make some comments on the technical aspects and the dramatic nature of the ‘play’.

I had the impression that there had not been much in the way of tech rehearsal.  Lighting was a bit erratic throughout the show, especially fixed spots and follow spot.  But I was more concerned in the first half that the audio balance between the band and the singers’ mikes meant that the voices were drowned – yet to hear them sing was the main reason we were there.  I guess somebody got to work in the bio-box over interval, because this problem was much improved in the second half.

Then I had to conclude that the purpose of the show was not made out.  If our focus was to be on the musical skills of the singers (and band) in a concert, then that could be sufficient in itself for a satisfying night in the theatre.  And the singers were good enough to do this, I think, even if they couldn’t match the original No 1’s, while the band was also up to the mark.

On the other hand, if we were meant to come to a new understanding of the qualities and value of the boys in their bands over those five decades, then the rather banal banter and tricks to make us laugh or think the show was ended were cheap distractions from what could have been a strong story of this element of popular culture.  As the impressive finale of the Beatles’ songs proved, and the different feeling behind the 1990s songs compared with those of previous decades suggested, this quite entertaining but otherwise rather shallow show could be made into a drama of considerable depth.

On the third hand, perhaps the show could have been a fun-spoof of this kind of show.  The tightly choreographed synchronised movements (not exactly but almost dance) that the Boys displayed were funny at the beginning, but gradually became rather ho-hum, even though I recognised that each song from a different original group had its own dance routine.  If this aspect of the show had been worked up to, for example, become more and more extreme as the decades rolled by, including the ‘now we’re going, now we’re not’ comic business, the show could have become a gentle satire of all the Boys in their Bands, until a contrasting selection of important songs as a finale to show the worthwhile impact of this tradition.

So, though I enjoyed the performances by these Boys, I think an opportunity has been missed drama-wise.

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