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April 7, 2006

 

A bouquet of love songs

North Coast’s spring concert is lively,
if more reserved than past ones

Cleveland--According to the calendar, it’s spring. That’s the time of year that everyone’s thoughts turn to love, isn’t it? True to form, the North Coast Men’s Chorus, directed by Richard Cole, presented their spring bouquet of love songs at Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium last weekend. S’Wonderfool was colorful and lively, if not quite as over-the-top as some of the men’s previous efforts. This was perhaps because one of the soloists had been injured in an accident on Friday evening, and while his prognosis is good, his absence from these concerts was keenly felt.

As usual, there was a mix of arrangements: straightforward presentations of love songs, “Old Friend,”  “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “The Nearness of You,” sung by the full chorus; a few solo or duo numbers; and appearances by the Coastliners, a double barbershop group that appear out in front of their cohorts. There were guest artists and a pair of production numbers.

“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” was the opener, delayed slightly because of gremlins in the lighting apparatus, but it was worth the wait. This full-chorus rendition was followed by a medley titled “A Beautiful Thing” of songs from the Mamas and the Papas, related to the concurrent opening of Dream a Little Dream at the Cleveland Play House. The song “Dream a Little Dream” featured an intricate and sparkling two-piano obbligato midway showcasing the two pianists Robert Day and David Dettloff. They were featured again during the second half in “Taking a Chance on Love.”

“Danny Boy” featured two of the group’s members, Dan Bobeczko and Mike Schuenemeyer, as soloists backed up by the unaccompanied chorus. This may well have been the emotional high point of the evening. No gimmicks, just beautiful music.

But they also do gimmicks well, especially mixing comedy with the singing. “I Do” proved the men could clap and sing at the same time (it’s not all that easy) while “His Love Makes Me Beautiful” was the first of their production numbers, albeit on a slightly smaller scale than usual. Eight of them were bridesmaids, with headpieces of brightly colored tulle and a bouquet to match, providing comfort to the—ahem, (pregnant) bride, Jerry Zak. Larry Crooks was the happy bridegroom, stepping in at the last moment for his injured and absent friend, Steven del Villar.

Dan Reynolds in a policeman’s uniform had some help from the sign language interpreter Doug Braun in “Love Potion Number 9.” After a short swig from Braun’s flask, Reynolds went from belligerent to affectionate, happily distributing little kisses to a few nearby audience members.

“And What if We Had Loved Like That?” with Greg Morley and Jim McPeak as more than capable soloists, was marred by an intermittent sound system. This seems to happen in every concert, or at least every one I’ve attended, which is most unfortunate. “On My Own” brought Vince Flores to the front. “Here’s to Love,” a bit later on the program, featured Clint Condon and Eric Unhold, minus gremlins. All of these men have good voices and stage presence, and it’s nice to see and hear them up front.

The Coastliners performed their own triple play. First up was Cole Porter’s infamous “Let’s Do It.” Hard to believe this song was banned when it first appeared. This version featured sound effects, depending on the species being vocally described. It was a real hoot! Later, in a style reminiscent of “boy groups” of the ’50s and ’60s, they sang “Love Don’t Be a Stranger to Me,” with each guy getting a solo. They nearly stopped the show with their final number, however: “I Like ’Em Big and Stupid” in a hilarious production. My favorite line here was wanting a “Superman with a lobotomy.”

“I Need to Know” brought out Rebecca Sweet and Jean-Paul Gronek of Viva Dance with a high-energy exhibition of dazzling footwork mixed with sinuous, sultry moves, accented by their sexy black costumes. They returned—dressed in gold and sequins—for the finale, a medley of “Fever” and “Steam Heat.” This pair could easily stop any show! Thirteen men of the chorus dressed in black tees and trousers were more than adept dancers in this piece. Perhaps a bit more equal than the others was Bryan K. Fetty who is not only a terrific singer, but also an exceptional dancer.

Mark P. Malloy, as always, did a terrific job with the costumes, and Lora Workman worked her magic as choreographer. Michael Rich is both tech director and lighting designer.

The next pair of concerts by the North Coast Men’s Chorus will be June 10 and 11, at Waetjen Auditorium. Tickets for Colors of Our Lives are available now through the web site www.ncmchorus.org.

 

Photo: Robert T. Olayas

 

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