By Barry Reszel
Gobsmacked: British and Australian slang meaning, literally, to be punched in the mouth, or figuratively, to be flabbergasted, astounded, speechless or overawed.
Gobsmacked the British a cappella sensation playing Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse this week: Both.
Six magnificent, harmonizing singers and one superhuman beat boxer weave stories through multiple genres of a cappella styles and sound effects. Ranging from street corner harmonies to cutting-edge, multi-track live looping, these seven musicians tear up an 18-track songbook that, with mashups, feels more like 30.
Stylings range from the Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It,” Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” and Prince‘s “Kiss” to the Beatles’ “She Loves You,” the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” and Barry Manilow‘s “Could It Be Magic?” among many others.
The eclectic mix is all wrapped in a state of constant choreography and beat, led by internationally acclaimed Ball-Zee, the group’s phenomenal beat boxer whose act two solo received the loudest ovation on opening night. That takes nothing away from the talents of Marcus Collins, Joanne Evans, Ed Scott, Nicholas Hayes, Emilie Louise Israel or Monica Sik Holm. Each of these singers is a star in his or her own right; but stars shine brightest in their constellations, and Gobsmacked’s are no different.
If there’s a personal nit, it’s that the group tries a bit too hard to make this concert theatrical. It’s about the music, not the transitions between songs. And these transitions are strangely done in a pantomime character style that doesn’t add much beyond some visual interest. It would be more interesting to get to know these singers for who they really are and to make a personal connection with the folks providing an evening’s absolutely lovely soundtrack.
In fact, in a perfect world, Gobsmacked would be hired as a killer party band with the host choosing the event’s song list (more Beatles, please) or they’d offer a variety of concerts with more narrowly focused song lists.
But those champagne wishes and caviar dreams aside, take this review as a literally figurative gobsmack, and get tickets to one of the group’s first-rate eclectic shows this week.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Gobsmacked” at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago, through December 10. More information and tickets are available here.