Review: Show Choir: Opposites Attract

Joe Richards 9 March 2017

From the moment the house lights dropped, to the rousing final bars of the bows, this performance had the audience eating out of the CU Show Choir’s (jazz) hands.

What stood out about this performance was that there were few real standouts. This was a truly an ensemble performance— each and every member of the choir took multiple well executed solos which were (almost always) carefully selected and tailored to best suit individual voices. There were occasions when certain voices did not carry well over the band and chorus, but this was usually down to technical problems with amplification.

Mateusz Król’s choreography was exciting and effective throughout with moments for individual displays and tightly coordinated ensemble sequences— it drew well upon existing realisations but managed to recreate these in an individual and appropriate manner. The constantly renewed energy of the performers was beyond exhilarating and displayed tremendous professionalism.

From a musical perspective, the choir were at their best in what was promised as a straight up, unadulterated performance of Carl Orff’s 'O Fortuna' (from Carmina Burana)— much to the audience’s delight this promise was not delivered upon, with the singers soon smushing together the iconic opening of Orff’s cantata with Beyonce’s 'Crazy in Love' in one of the best arrangements of the night. MC Connor Murphy claimed “Show Choir can do choral too— watch out John’s, we’re coming for your chapel!” The singers dealt with the tuning of dissonant harmonies and octave-doubling of high tessitura melodies effectively and demonstrated that they’re capable of a far greater range of music than their staple pop covers and show tunes. This piece stood out not only for the quality of the singing, but for the fact that it was (for the most part) a cappella and the voices of the choir could finally be heard well.

Generally the men’s voices came across more poorly than the women’s— this was both because the driving bass of the band was somewhat overpowering in comparison to the efforts of the basses, and the fact that the general tessitura of the men’s parts were confined to a somewhat limited baritone— the registeral extremes of high tenor and low bass remained relatively under-utilised. That being said, when the men were given their chance to shine in a male only piece they took real advantage— after a slightly rough start with minor tuning and ensemble problems, the entry of the band pulled the ensemble back together, and although the same issue of underuse of the full range available persisted, the skill of the arrangement and sheer energy of the choir carried the performance and allowed individual voices to really shine.

In fact, after the general male/female imbalance, the most annoying balance issues were caused by poor use of technology. A handful of times a mic was at far too low a level for the singer’s ability with regards to vocal projection, but this issue was not helped by the fact that several of the performers, whose excellent voices I could still hear, were either inexperienced in the best use of stage microphones or simply distracted by the (frankly amazing) efforts that were going into their choreography and vocal production.

The band were so tight that it was often hard to tell if a pre-recorded, commercially produced backing track was playing. The sound of the band was also excellent, clear throughout, although this also speaks to a general problem with the sound— the amplification of the band, with heavy emphasis on the bass, was sometimes distracting from the vocals (especially in lower voices), but this is a balance that is very hard to strike with show choir performances and only occasionally detracted from the listener experience.

A lot of the arrangements did an excellent job of drawing together often contrasting musical styles into exciting mash-ups. Murphy’s wit and charm in his (stand-up worthy) introductions was a constant source of entertainment and delight for the whole room, drawing together the disparate (perhaps not quite opposite) musics in entertaining and creative jokes. By the end of the final piece the choir had large swathes of the audience in the packed out ADC Theatre on their feet, crying out for more. This was just the buoyant, life assuring evening we all need in these final dark days of Lent term.