The exuberant celebration of male vigour, bonding and artistry comes to Melbourne later this month in the form of the joyous triumph that is  The Choir of Man.  Produced by Andrew Kay & Nic Doodson (with Doodson also directing) The Choir of Man was a smash hit at the Edinburgh Festival two years ago, and has since spread its unique style of foot-stomping joy across many continents.

With no sign of slowing, The Choir of Man was originally an idea pitched to Doodson by  co-producer Kay who’d heard of a men’s choir (actually based in Australia) that consisted of regular guys who got together to sing, drink and put the world to rights.

“He thought this would be a great basis for the show and I also loved the idea” says Doodson, who went on to develop it as a show that was based in a British/Irish pub and filled it with the sort of characters you’d see in one of these pubs. “We tried it out at the Edinburgh Festival in 2017 and straight away saw from the reaction of the crowd that the show was something special – if a little rough around the edges. We look back at those first performances and laugh at how haphazard everything felt!”

 After that first season in Edinburgh, the team had a chance to take a step back and refine the characters and story a little, so  quite a few changes were made for the Adelaide 2018 Fringe season. “We had lost a couple of the original cast members so were forced to have a change of characters (for example, the “piano man” character was not originally in the show) which actually helped round the show off a little bit,” explains Doodson. “We also were able to add a couple of the spoken word moments to really enhance the message of community and friendship that was naturally emerging from the show.” As a director on the show, Doodson has definitely taken the approach of letting the company as a whole develop the story and then stepped in to enhance and distill the team’s message into a 90mins show.

 And what does Doodson consider to be of the greatest challenges when it came to putting the show on initially? Convincing venues that it’s OK to give away 100 pints of beer before the show started, of course!  “Everyone said we were mad (and some venues still do!) but we knew it would be the right thing to do to get the show started on the right foot,” he says. “It’s not about people getting drunk, it’s about that joyful feeling of community that pubs (and many other buildings…churches, mosques, synagogues, community halls) give to people. And it’s such an unexpected and joyous treat to the audience that it starts the show off with a smile on everyone’s face.”

The show is dubbed ‘the ultimate-feel good show’ but what makes it so? What’s its appeal…its magic…why do audiences continue to want more? The formula is simple, says Doodson, it’s all about the truth. “The guys on stage are not trying to be anything other than themselves (they use their own names as their stage names) and the relationships the audience see on stage are real. We set out to make a show about a group of friends and ended up making a group of friends that do a show together. When they look like they’re having fun, they are. When they look like they’re sad, they really are. We talk about real things in the show and the guys really mean it.”

The show’s popularity means touring, and the team have been doing just that. Fresh from an extensive US tour, the show hit our shores with a gusto to be admired taking in 4 states over a roughly 4 month period. Doodson tells me that the Arts Centre Melbourne cast is a mix of the first 3 casts – “the best of the best if you will.” It’s a heady blend of some of the guys who created the roles in the show, some of the original European tour cast and some of the original Sydney Opera House cast. “It’s a cast of champions. You’ll love them.”

Touring can be a tough gig with Dodson acknowledging that every tour is different. For example, in the USA it’s a hard slog…the day would look something like this:

8am wake up on the tour bus, look out the window and see where you are (hopefully not snowed in or broken down)

8.30am start unloading the trucks to get in the set and sound and lights equipment

2pm finish unloading and setting up the show.

3pm – 6pm: soundchecks, repairs, rehearsals, publicity on stage

7pm – 10pm: warm up, pre-show, show time, after show signing cd’s and selling merchandise

10pm – 1am: load up the truck.

1am – set off for the next venue.

Repeat…

But when it comes to the most memorable place visited Doodson says that playing the Sydney Opera House is pretty special for  ‘ us poms.’ “It’s such an iconic building and to play there not only once but twice has been a career highlight not only for the creative team but for the cast as well,” he says. “So much so that many of the cast and crew have got Sydney Opera House tattoos.” Playing the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC was also a complete thrill for the team. “It’s those magical, historic theatres that are fun to play…it’s crazy that our little show is playing in all of them.”

A successful pair in their own right, Doodson and Kay have been working together on shows for 6 years. Kay first produced a show Doodson was in with a band called The Magnets and the rest, as they say, is history. “In 2015 I had an idea for an a cappella and beatboxing show called “Gobsmacked!” which I pitched to Andrew and he agreed to work with me and produce it” explains Doodson, who says that working with Kay was invaluable as his experience and industry know how is the sort of information that you’d kill to get. “He’s a very generous guy when it comes to sharing information and helping younger producer/directors (such as myself) so we had a very happy collaboration on Gobsmacked.” And fortuitously for them both, it was whilst they were organising their USA tour for Gobsmacked back in 2016, that Kay first mentioned the idea of Choir of Man.

For Doodson,  the greatest joy about being able to present this show to audiences is that is sourced from a genuine fount and that genuineness resonates. “I love it when people come and tell me (or write reviews about) that the show really touched them and the things we talk about in relation to community and male mental health mean something,” says Doodson who stresses that beyond singing and dancing, what he really cares about is people and community. “We spread a message about sitting down with each other whether over a pint or a cup of tea, and just talking. Just being. When people get that and appreciate it then I feel very creatively fulfilled.”

So, if you want a feel good show with songs you know and plenty of free beer, come and share a pint with The Choir of Man! A must see show!

December 28 – January 12

www.artscentremelbourne.com.au

Images: David & Chris Cann

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