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Wednesday 14 April 2010

Review: Good times with GALS' Kiwifruits

Posted in: Performance
By Jay Bennie - 31st October 2009

Gay And Lesbian Singers (GALS)
Centennial Theatre, Auckland Grammar School
31 October and 1 November at 5.30pm.

Kiwifruits, in which GALS celebrates the ethnic, geographical and historical roots of its members, is an eclectic and sometimes beautifully polished collection of familiar and not so familiar songs, adapted for choir, and performed with enthusiasm by singers of varying talents.

The increased informality, a welcome feature of tonight's show, was signaled right from the start when regular MC David Steemson was spotted amongst the singers, and singing, instead of being solely confined to the side of the stage doing the links and introductions.

If the opening E pari ra was a tad tentative, the following Skye Boat Song was beautiful, clear, and swelling with harmony, with musical director Stephen Bowness balancing the voices and sections artfully. Soloist Ruth Gilbert led the choir in Lennon & McCartney's In My Life, and her light, slightly plaintive, voice was matched to the arrangement perfectly, though a little more conductor to soloist connection might have lifted her performance even further.

Six Months in a Leaky Boat was a good try, let down by arranger Chris Burchin who struggled to find a workable treatment and compensated by heaping on far too many little tricks. That said, the re-creation of a gently surging and slowly fading sea which finished the song, using only whispered hissing breathy sounds, was quite remarkable.

Gordon Palmer's sweet playing of a bamboo flute in the tradional Chinese folk song Mo Li Hua lifted that piece out of the ordinary. Wayne Mason's iconic Kiwi anthem Nature sent us out for intermission wines and cuppas with plenty of warm fuzzies and looking forward to the second half.

In general the male singers, and the bases in particular, seemed to have lifted their act this evening with a richer more confident delivery than in the past, but the first song after intermission, the traditional Samoan song Faleula e! found them wanting. The kind of restrained power, the sense of vocal oomph based on good diaphragm technique, was lacking as they provided counterpoint to the women's strongly delivered melodies which nicely captured that unique sound of Samoan massed singing.

Things looked up with Musik de Nacht and especially with Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten, the latter being a perfectly pitched chocolate-boxey rendition of this waltz-time plum conjuring up mental visions of bicycles and canals and windmills and tulips and gracious old Dutch merchant homes.  It's not often that a 'coach' takes to the field (try to imagine, without laughing your head off, Graham Henry taking to the field tonight against the Wallabies) but full credit to Stephen Bowness for his solo moment kicking off As Time Goes By and doing it damn well.

Guest artists Biffy and Bimbo, whose first set in the first half had lacked context, came into their own as they effortlessly strutted the stage, taking on the audience, overseeing the raffle draws and performing a mimed musical 'salute' to a Canadian icon which should see their inboxes full of cease and desist threats come Monday morning. This pair have a predictable schtick, with Buffy avuncular and sly and Bimbo sharp as a tack and taking no prisoners. The fun is not so much in what they say but in who will trigger what, the quickness of their repartee and of course the volume of their astounding coiffures.

As the last three songs washed over us there was time to reflect on the number of songs tonight which successfully eschewed accompaniment and yet how much the sensitive backing of Craig Blockley, patiently seated at the grand piano, added to the performance when he was called into play. Good to see Blockley singing along at times and subtly joining in the spirit of fancy dress fun as well. It was that sort of cheerful informality and 'give it a go' spirit from choir, soloists and support performers which enhanced tonight's programme and turned Kiwifruits from a string of songs into just under two hours of good times for cast and audience alike, liberally studded with moments of real choral pleasure.

- Jay Bennie

Jay Bennie - 31st October 2009

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