“The Choir of Man” in Playhouse Square is the shake you need as the live theater returns to Cleveland

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  • Photo by Jack Blume
  • The Choir of Man is now playing at Playhouse Square

Since most of us have fallen into a coma of one kind or another in the past 15 months, it’s time to use a defibrillator to bring us back to consciousness. And if you want to grab those theatrical ‘paddles of life’ and give yourself a healthy start, the rowdy guys who make up The Choir of Man music show are ready to pull you out of the daze you find yourself in.

This traveling show, which has had two more visits to Playhouse Square in recent years, takes place in an Irish pub called The Jungle. And even though it looks like a gay bar, with no women in sight, these guys aren’t looking to date anyone – they just want to sing, dance, and work their way into your heart. And why not? The Celtic Women franchise on PBS is over a decade old, with Irish women singing richly orchestrated folk songs amid artfully lit castles and flowing dresses. So why not a bunch of lush in a bar singing while they piss. Yes, this is one of the scenes, in the bar toilet, with a singer spraying the shoes of the guy next to him at the urinal.

That bit of comedy, uh, relief is stuck in the vast track list, making this 80-minute show a treat for many and maybe a bit of a chore for others. The degree to which you enjoy choir may depend on your tolerance for high-volume vocals of powerful ballads, testosterone-fueled dancing, and overused rotating concert spotlights that frequently bathe and momentarily blind audiences.

After a few noodles before the show and the distribution of free beer to the spectators, the narrator of the show Denis Grindel guides the debates. He is a lovely host as he contemplates the past year and celebrates the fact that we are all beginning to commune with each other again. You know, the way human beings did in the old world.

There is no real story connecting the songs in Choir. The fiery and intoxicated guys sing, band together and sing again, applying their good to great voices to tunes ranging from pop to R&B and folk to funk. All the actors also play instruments, some of them well (guitar and piano) and others less skillfully (trumpet and sax). They are supported by a group of four who give the music a solid foundation.

Each of the cast members receives their own featured song. “The Impossible Dream” is sung by the only American on stage, Keith Klein, in a moving baritone and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” is performed by the bartender, played by the beefy and uninhibited Lemuel Knights. In between are a variety of other songs, often well harmonized. The nine-person cast even embark on a compelling a capella version of Sia’s hit “Chandelier”.

As excited as the show is, there are a few things that stand out in their absence. The Irish are known for their storytelling, but there is no story to be found here other than “We’re back together, yay!” That is, of course, a deep thought right now. But since none of the characters are fully developed, we never get the chance to emotionally connect with any of them. That kind of connection is also something we’ve been waiting for a long time, but since there is no romance in The Jungle – straight, gay, or whatever – it feels like a missing piece. And if you anticipate an Irish drum solo or maybe a bagpipe riff, that doesn’t happen either.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the show is that we are all back in a theater in Playhouse Square. Even though they only allow 25% of the capacity in the theater, which will increase in July if conditions warrant, the experience of sharing a live performance with other ambulatory and breathing people is a gigantic treat in itself. .

The Human Choir
Until August 8 at the Mimi Ohio Theater, Playhouse Square, 1615 Euclid Ave., playhousesquare.org, 216-241-6000.


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