Chicago Theatre Review
The Amazing A Cappella and Beatboxing Show
Gobsmacked – Broadway in Chicago
There’s a new show in Chicago and it’s only in town for a few precious performances. Go see it. Don’t wait. You won’t be disappointed. This isn’t a traditional book musical. It’s more like a musical revue, but it features the unbelievable vocal and choreographic talents of seven incredible performers. Imagine a more contemporary version of The Manhattan Transfer, The Nylons, Sweet Honey in the Rock, or more recent vocal groups like Pentatonix and Straight No Chaser. Now think of that pure vocal sound elevated to its highest level.
This delightful, whimsical and sometimes poignant song cycle is akin to watching all the very best bits and polished routines from films, like “Pitch Perfect,” or the grand finale of reality television shows, like NBC’s “The Sing-Off.” This production is the brainchild of British performer, director, competition judge and producer Nic Doodson. He’s quoted as saying he wanted to achieve for a cappella singing “what ‘Stomp’ did for drumming and what ‘Tap Dogs’ did for tap dancing.” Together with co-creator and musical director Jack Blume, featuring precise direction by Alexandra Spencer-Jones, this high-octane entertainment spotlights 18 superb a cappella versions of a variety of pop tunes that everyone will recognize and adore.
Theatergoers must be reminded that there’s no instrumental backing in this show; all the sounds heard in this concert are amazingly performed vocally. The cast is mainly accompanied by the bewilderingly beautiful beatboxing talent of an artist known as Ball-Zee. This stunning performer happens to be the reigning, world-champion beatbox artist. He’s listed in the program as The Conductor, because that’s yet another task he performs for each number. Ball-Zee maintains the tempos for the singers and keeps them moving right along. He even gets his own, well-deserved solo number, “BeatBoxSolo,” that earns the young performer the greatest ovation of the evening. The rest of this wonderful cast includes Joanne Evans, Emilie Louise Israel, Monica Sik Hom, Marcus Collins, Ed Scott and Nick Hayes. Together and individually this ensemble infuse the Broadway Playhouse stage with enough sound and energy to light up all of Michigan Avenue.
The production features a variety of songs. They include, among others, such pop favorites as Lady Gaga’s “Telephone,” James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World,” “Pump It” by the Black Eyed Peas, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Kiss” by Prince, Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic” and the Beatles’ “She Loves You.” The remarkable aspect of this concert is that, although each of these songs have a familiar sound and the lyrics are well-known, the a cappella and beatbox treatment makes each of them sound brand new.
The term “gobsmacked” is a British term, slang for being utterly astonished or astounded. That’s a perfect description of how audiences will react to this incredible show. It’s cheerful, clever, sometimes hilarious, often touching and always highly entertaining. Each musical number, staged with precise choreography to accompany the sound, becomes a story in itself. Characters are formed, relationships emerge and scenes eventually develop throughout the piece. Set against Philip Gladwell’s scenic design that’s a wall of woofers and tweeters, plus a couple of moving staircases, and brilliantly lit by Charlie Morgan-Jones, this two-act confection will amaze and delight audiences of all ages. Stopping by the Broadway Playhouse will offer the perfect evening oasis for tourists and a pick-me-up for holiday shoppers.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 5-10 by Broadway in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago.
Tickets are available at Ticketmaster locations, by calling the Broadway in Chicago Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by visiting www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.