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Seriously slick and silly

Fringe World review: The Men of the West, Goodbye and Hello: The First Comeback Tour ⋅
Circus Theatre at Fringe Central, February 10 ⋅
Review by Claire Coleman ⋅

Plain chant or pop hit, Broadway ballad or sacred hymn, there is something primal in the sonorous timbre of full-throated, a cappella male voices raised together in harmony.

The Men of the West bring their own take on the male vocal tradition in their 2019 Fringe show, Goodbye and Hello: The First Comeback Tour. The self-described “be-hatted behemoth of blokes who sing” cite influences including “Mastodons, Cro-Magnon man [and] Modernism,” indicating the tongue-in-cheek humour that underpins their performance.

In Goodbye and Hello, The Men offer a diverse program ranging from Georgian table songs to bangers intended for the club. Brief stories or moments of collective posturing from choristers, or from the choir’s conductor Ryan Nicholson, give this potentially jarring setlist the blend it needs.

Nicholson, who must be twenty or more years younger than many of his choristers, is often the target of jokes in this show. In the song Timeline, a hilarious reworking for the Facebook age of the Motown hit I Heard It On the Grapevine, Nicholson’s dismay at learning the choir had a barbecue to which he was not invited is lampooned via the lyric “I saw it on your timeline.” While the ribbing of Nicholson is always in good humour, and part of a greater narrative in which The Men poke fun at their own advancing years and declining physical health, it sets up an unusual distance between the choir and the conductor.

The Men of the West have included Georgian song in their repertoire since their inception, and it is while singing the conventional polyphony, open harmonies and drones that The Men really shine. A particularly enjoyable, if left field, example is their darkly Georgian-inspired rendition of Reel 2 Reel’s Eurodance hit I Like to Move It. The audience needed little invitation to clap along.

In Goodbye and Hello The Men strike a delicate balance between slick showmanship and a more casual campfire vibe that befits a community choir. Their ability to occupy both spaces at once was apparent in the show’s opening number, when an unscripted but determined toddler evaded its mother to scurry across the stage into the warm embrace of a chorister. Neither chorister nor choir missed a beat in singing or staging. It set the tone for a show full of laughs, delivered by a group that takes itself seriously but not so seriously a performing dad can’t hug his stray kid.

Goodbye and Hello continues until February 13.

Pictured top: Men of the West. Photo Miles Noel

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