Kristin Shafel Omiccioli | KCMetropolis.org
On the weekend just before Sir Paul McCartney’s 70th birthday, Kansas City’s resident feel-good choir Heartland Men’s Chorus delivered another entertaining concert series to sold-out audiences, this time featuring beloved songs of the Beatles.
The Heartland Men’s Chorus opened “All You Need is Love,” its debut performance in the Kauffman Center’s Muriel Kauffman Theatre, with an elaborate photo montage projected on a full-stage-sized sheer screen, set to the haunting “Because.” The striking images appropriately corresponded to the lyrics and included iconic shots of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, finishing with the infamous 1964 clip from The Ed Sullivan Show. After the Sullivan intro, HMC quickly launched into the boisterous “I Want to Hold Your Hand” as the screen was raised.
The program juxtaposed sweet, sedate love ballads with hard rock hits from the band’s abundant catalogue, including medleys, soloists, and dancing. Artistic director Joseph Nadeau selected excellent arrangements fitting comfortably into the chorus’s range, with rich harmonies and well-constructed polyphony. The men effectively conveyed each song’s mood and clearly enunciated the lyrics while putting their own HMC spin on the music, although occasionally I thought their projection might have been stronger in Helzberg Hall than in Kauffman Theatre.
Dressed as the lads fromLiverpool—complete with skinny ties, dark Edwardian suits, and mop tops—a faction of the chorus emerged to dance during the first medley of “Get Back,” “Revolution,” and “Back in the USSR.” Tracie Davis’ choreography added to the nostalgia with classic ‘60s moves like the jerk, pony, swim, and more. Choreography was peppered throughout the show between the dancers and a few simple moves for the chorus itself, notably on “In My Life,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Yellow Submarine.”
The second half of the concert highlighted the Beatles’ more exploratory period of the late ‘60s. In a pleasantly creative and memorable moment, this half began with a photo of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover projected on the screen. After a caption of “45 years later…” faded away, the screen rose to reveal the chorus members costumed in extremely colorful and spot-on ’60s garb—afros, paisley shirts, leather fringe, bellbottoms, peace necklaces, and several in the cover’s token neon marching band uniforms. The medley of bluesy rock anthem “Come Together,” dreamy “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and trippy “Across the Universe” were enhanced by psychedelic lighting and imagery.
HMC’s premier 12-man ensemble the HeartAches performed two stand-alone songs, firstly the King’s Singers’ antiquated chorale-style a cappella version of “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Its second tune, “Blackbird,” was possibly the sweetest rendition of the evening, accompanied only by guitar and featuring lovely, tender singing and noteworthy unison whistling.
Other soloists were comparably impressive. The wistful love ballad “Michelle” was sung with a pensive quality and precise French by Benjamin Helmers. Steven Jeffrey Karlin and Ryan Harris-Hernandez’s treatment of the verses to “We Can Work it Out” were mildly angst-filled, giving their brief duet a theatrical feel. Greg Maupins and Jeff Williams assuredly captured the gritty essence of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” One of the night’s most musically satisfying moments was when the chorus joined John Edmunds after his confident, relaxed introduction to “Hey Jude.”
Compliments must be paid to the artistic and production teams, who, through their lighting and tech work, upgraded the already high production value of typical HMC concerts to Kauffman-level worthiness. The instrumentalists deserve credit for successfully recreating the Beatles’ signature ‘60s timbre and playing suitable solos throughout the show as well.
The encores encompassed what HMC is all about: touching images projected in the background of friendship, family, unity, peace, and harmony accompanied “All You Need is Love,” and a reprise of “A Hard Day’s Night” was full of dancing, energy, flare, and pure fun. Aside from a few intonation slips, a couple of hesitant entrances, and loss of steam in a few sustained phrases, “All You Need is Love” was well-paced ninety minutes of uplifting, heartwarming delight and a proper tribute to pop music’s most influential foursome.
Heartland Men’s Chorus
All You Need is Love
June 16–17, 2012(Reviewed Saturday, June 16)
Muriel Kauffman Theatre,Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
1601 Broadway, Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit http://hmckc.org