Wednesday, March 13, 2019

REVIEW: The Choir of Man

We saw the opening show of the Broadway in Chicago import Choir of Man last night.  It's a likable import from Great Britain with some amazing singing, a few well executed comedy bits, some very good tap-dancing, and a fair amount of free beer.  So what could go wrong?

The show is a "Slice of Life" love letter to the Irish pub.  The fictionalized pub on display, the Jungle, serves as an actual bar in the pre-show, where some audience members are selected to go up on stage and get a free beer.  The guys are all personable and friendly, and any show that starts off with free beer has a leg up.   Really, it changes the relationship of the audience from onlooker to participant.  On a side note, my beer was dark and okay, and it made me wonder if it was alcoholic beer or non-alcoholic.  (The actors drink throughout the night, and my guess is that they are drinking non-alcoholic beer.)

There's not much of a plot to the show.  It's more of a quasi-fictional concert, with characters. Dennis (the narrator, seen in the video above) introduces us to all of the denizens of the bar, including a number of stock types-- the Lothario, the big lug with a heart of gold, the prankster, the bartender, etc.  Dennis speaks in rhyming couplets about the pub, and waxes eloquently about this place.  In between Dennis' monologues the guys take turns singing rock and pop songs, including hits from Queen, Guns'n'Roses (The appropriate Welcome To the Jungle), Paul Simon , Adele, Katy Perry, and others.  The show runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

The Choir Of Man: Photo by Chris Cann
Everybody's got a fine voice, the blokes are all ruggedly handsome, the dancing and choreography are well executed and well thought out, and there are some comedy bits, including a love song sung to a grandma-ish lady that takes on new meaning when you consider the age disparity, a series of bad dad jokes, and a peeing extravaganza that could come straight out of a 1950's comedy act (and I mean that in a good way). I'm a big believer in virtuosity in the theatre, and it is certainly on display.  As musicians these guys are superb.

The Choir Of Man: Photo by Chris Cann
We left the theatre feeling good, and although there wasn't much story, we were very entertained.  I do have a couple of criticisms of the show, but they are more about what the show wasn't versus what it was.

 It wasn't very representative (all 9 men in the show were white and had roots in Ireland.  Of course that's what the show is about, this "Friends in the pub" culture that you can have with your mates, but like it or not, they are celebrating a white boys club culture of "Boys will be boys" that excludes a lot of people.  There was even a bit of towel-snapping in the show.

And I couldn't help think what a pub looks like where not every person in it is handsome, white, and of Irish descent.  (one of the guys was vaguely Chinese, and he was teased about it once)  I am usually one of the last people on the "non-inclusion" bandwagon, but it really stuck out to me when I saw the show.

The Choir Of Man: Photo by Brian Wright

For me, the harder thing about this show is that it is sentimental for this pub life, and I am not a big lover of sentimentality in the theatre. It paints the pub life as mostly idyllic, and full of nice guys whose arguments are temporary blips in the bonhommie of their life.  It's not quite a play, and more of a concert, but  I can easily imagine the amazing play that this COULD HAVE BEEN.

The Choir Of Man: Photo by Brian Wright
 I would have liked to seen the non-rose colored version of the pub, complete with arguments,  drunkenness, unnecessary drama, bad ideas, enemies, and crossed messages.  I know it wasn't the purpose of this show, but I felt like it could have been GREAT if they had gotten downer and dirtier to find the real essence of the pub.  Instead, they skimmed the polished surface, and it was entertaining, but it could have been a lot deeper as well. (And still have been as entertaining!)

The Choir Of Man: Photo by Brian Wright
Don't get me wrong-- the show was great and fun and entertaining.  But I felt like it could have been all that and also deeper.  I feel like they just touched the surface.  If you want to be entertained, I can highly recommend this show.   (And it would be a great way to celebrate St. Paddy's day.)

It runs through March 17 (one week only at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut) Showtimes are at 7:30 pm Tuesday-Friday with shows on Saturday at 2 and 8 pm and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm Individual tickets range in price from $39-$79 with a select number of premium tickets available.

There is also a digital lottery held for 20 daily tickets at $25 each. To enter the lottery, visit

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