This was the third and final show in the Sing! A Cappella Festival series, and everyone was looking forward to it with great anticipation. With two fabulous shows already under their belts, this crowd was ready for yet another. Dave LaBar served as Master of Ceremonies, and, responding to the joke by MC Roger Lewis on Sunday night, where he mentioned that to save expenses all of the MC's were sharing the same rented tux, Dave came on stage with the pants legs rolled up above the calf, vest hiked up around his massive chest, jacket sleeves shoved half- way up his forearms, giving the distinct impression that his outfit was rather ill-fitting! He just stood there for a moment as the crowd recalled the joke and howled and applauded, then Dave stepped to the mic and declared, "This sharing the same tux has got to go!" He later shook out the pants cuffs and straightened himself out to the delight of the audience, and we were on our way!
Last year's 6th place International Finalists from Dixie District opened the mostly barbershop-oriented show in their trademark blue tuxes, with lead Tim Reynolds smoothly delivering "Blue Skies" with a 2-minute long post (ok it was maybe a minute) at the tag. It always works as they go into that final chord transition and Tim is STILL hanging on effortlessly, that the audience reacts with an "Oh My!!" and then erupts in wild applause as the quartet just smiles thankfully and thinks, yeah, we could have held it a lot longer...Then to show that it wasn't a fluke, they followed it with "M-A-Double-M-Y," this time with tenor Eric King posting the 3 minute 47 second long tag (ok, I gotta get this watch fixed) and bringing another whoop from the audience. Bass Jeff Solano charmed us with the old joke of dreaming about going to heaven and seeing the other quartet members arm in arm for all eternity with ugly women (as their pennance for "just barely making it into heaven"), then seeing tenor Eric linked with Bo Derek ("well you see, Bo Derek just barely made it into heaven...") and then they captivated us all with "Let The Rest Of The World Go By," a totally wonderful ballad. Jeff stepped forward again and offered a humorous poem about "reincarnation" where-in the subject, upon his death, is buried and begins his magical transition...as over the grave a flower grows, only to be eventually eaten by a passing horse, which uses the flower (which once was you) along with other grains and such, digesting most of it and passing out that which the horse can no longer use. This thing (which once was you) lays there on the ground, and when the poet comes upon this object, he'll think of you and consider the wonders of reincarnation, and think that, all in all, you haven't changed that much! A rousing medley of "Fit As A Fiddle" and "For Me And My Gal" got us going next, and they closed their great set with a remembrance of Lou Perry and an almost reverent "For All We Know."
The 1996 Harmony, Inc. Champions were on next, introduced by MC Dave LaBar as consisting of a mother, her two daughters and her best friend. When these four beautiful ladies hit the stage in sparkling bright red floor length dresses and sporting their championship crowns, it was hard to tell who was the mom and who were the daughters! They opened with "Birth Of The Blues," perfect for this land of jazz and blues, and finished on a soft low tag that was just sweet. Bass Katie Taylor quizzed the audience and had them guess who was who (Tenor Lorie Autote and Katie are the daughters of Mary Ann Wert, the baritone, with lead Laurie Shepherd, Mary Ann's long time singing bud, rounding out the foursome. They followed with a bouncy "I Feel a Lot Better When I Sing" and then shushed us all as they caressed our ears with "This Little Piggy," gathering close over an imaginary baby's crib and tucking us all in for the night...mmmm! The lights went dark at the close of the tag, completing the moment. Beautiful! They planted their feet and sang a stirring "This Is The Moment" and closed their set with the fun "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby" from Forever Plaid, which was good but I thought a bit too careful and slowly delivered...I would have loved to see them hit it with a high energy close, but that's just me, I guess. The audience sure loved it all!
The Voices of Lee is a 15-member chorus from Lee University, nestled in the eastern side of Tennessee between Knoxville and Chattanooga, in the town of Cleveland. Directed by Danny Murray, the seven females and eight males formed two rows on the stage and instantly filled the hall with a huge rich sound as they opened with "This Land Is Your Land" and stunned the audience with their rich smooth clear blend of excellent young voices. Several step-out soloists sang clear and pure, and director Murray stayed off to the side a bit, crisply directing every nuance to perfection. Amazing! "Wonderful Invention of Love" was a gorgeous song, you just had to be hear to hear it...I can't describe the intricate harmony and blend of male and female voices. "There Is a Fountain" featured a nice male bass solo, and we thought we'd all died and gone to heaven when the director introduced Four Voices, the '96 collegiate quartet champions (and currently one of Dixie District's representatives in the International Quartet Contest) as a surprise addition to the group. Tenor Lester Rector was the star soloist as the quartet joined the Voices of Lee in a stunning, show-stopping "All Rise." The crowd exploded in a standing ovation or these extremely talented young singers. Wow!
Rounding out the first half was the Big Chicken Chorus from Marietta, Georgia, under the direction of Clay "FRED" Hines. The curtain rose on some 90+ singers packed onto the risers, and these wacky guys opened with "This Is My Lucky Day," proceeding to immediately screw it all up with wild and sometimes hazardous physical comedy...one of their step-out MC men promptly tripped and fell on his way to the mic, then leaped up in an attempt to recover, only to become entangled in his tux coat. He managed to wrestle it into submission but as he grabbed his set of cue cards from an inside pocket they exploded out of his hands as a loud chord from the chorus startled him, sending them raining randomly to the ground... this was not HIS lucky day! The chorus continued this "tribute to screwing things up" with a "mangled montage" of wild singing and crazy footwork, falling all over themselves as they try unsuccessfully to blend singing and movement in "Ain't She Sweet"...the front row and most of the chorus ended up in a heap on the floor at some point..."Old McDonald Had a Band" was a cute farm number, and they finally allowed us to cach our breath with a straight rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." This led straight into their "Wizard of Oz" routine, with Drayton Justice appearing on stage as "Dorothy" complete with brown pigtail braids, a cute blue and white dress, sparkling red shoes...and a full beard! The chorus re-enacted the basic plot of the famous movie, as the Big Chickens whirled around the stage in the tornado scene, coming upon Munchkin Land and being greeted by members of the Lollipop Guild...Simple goofy props and costume parts were slapped over their black and gold tuxes and made it complete. Dorothy was joined by the Scarecrow, singing a ditzy "If I Only Had a Brain," and the Tin Man, whose outfit consisted of aluminum pie plates strapped to his knees, aluminum oven baster pans on his feet, a foil-wrapped funnel on his head, and a couple of oven roaster pans strapped to his chest and back! Of course, the group was joined by the "Cowardly Chicken" featuring the chorus' own mascot in costume, and together they defeated the wicked witch, successfully obtained their fondest desires (the scarecrow, upon receiving his brain, attempted to jam it in his head, stuff it in his ear, etc...the tin man's cardboard cut-out heart was slapped on his aluminum chest, but just fell to the stage floor...the Cowardly Chicken received a gold medal and finally got the courage to cross the road! All in all it was a wild ride to Kansas and back! The Big Chickens closed the first half of the show with a stirring "American Trilogy" medley, that brought the crowd to their feet one more time with wild applause, cheers and shouts for more.
MC Dave LaBar expressed perfectly how everyone has felt about this wonderfully funny quartet in his introduction, reminding us of how great we felt when FRED took the gold in Anaheim in 1999, and how miserable we've been since realizing they would no longer be included in international competition. FRED has a loyal following that never tires of their insanity on stage, and this crowd was full of FRED-heads as they appeared once more in their classic black tuxes, top hats, and groucho nose-eye glasses. They brought back some of their classic routines they have been entertaining with around the world, opening with "I've Got Rhythm," followed by "Fit As A Fiddle" and their inventive and funny "Church Bells" bit. "Tiger Rag" and the off the wall version of "Coney Island Washboard Roundelay" (where-in tenor Pookie once more subjects himself to being soundly beaten about the head and body by the rest of the quartet)...if you haven't seen their craziness in person there is little I ca do to further describe it. Just be sure to get these guys on your next chapter show! Fabulous!
OK look...I am going to point you to www.swinglesingers.com and ask you to go out there and check them out for yourselves. Buy their CD's sit back and get ready for a vocal adventure you will never forget. This group has been around for about 35 years, and has performed all over the world in what Dave LaBar announced in his introduction as "swung baroque...and you know what they say, if it ain't baroque...don't fix it!" (insert groan here) The ensemble consists of four male and four female voices, all exquisite, all amazing. They strode on stage and faced the back wall with their backs to us, and started out with the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey" in vocal instrumentals. They moved into Mozart's Magic Flute Overture with incredible smoothness, deftly maximizing their blend and sound with expert mic work. They had wonderfully simple yet engaging choreography, interacting with each other in small groups, guys versus girls, or individually, always bringing the connection back to us with flawless, precise musicianship. I was just blown away. I ended up just putting down my pencil and experiencing them, uninterrupted. I can't recall all the wonderful songs they sang, but I remember a moving "September Song" and "Just One Of Those Things" and "All The Things You Are" as they merged into a gorgeously romantic set of love songs that made you want to grab onto the person next to you and hug them... They told us of a new CD they have out now, called "Ticket To Ride" which is a tribute to the Beatles, and they gave us "a few tasters" of the cuts on that work, including "Daytripper," "Yesterday," "Lady Madonna," and "Baby You Can Drive My Car." I was impressed once again how the Beatles have proven time and again that their music was ahead of its time, as it reaches and inspires so many singers 30-40 years later. The Swingles concluded their marvelous package with a set of songs from the Broadway show, "My Fair Lady," including "I Could Have Danced All Night" with a crystal clear soloist voice, "On The Street Where You Live," "Show Me," and "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." The audience roared their approval and demanded an encore, which included a complicated and over-the-top "1812 Overture" complete with vocalized cannon fire, intricate harmonies and instrumental mimickry that capped the evening and the entire A Cappella Festival for all of us. Everyone left the 4-hour marathon show wishing there was more, and expressing the hope that the Society is able to help put together another stellar Sing! A Cappella Festival in the near future. Thanks go to co-chairmen Tim Hanrahan and Gene Cokecroft and their entire crew for making this happen. What a gift to music lovers everywhere!
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