BWW Review: 'Oh, What A Night!' With UNDER THE STREETLAMP and the Nashville Symphony
No matter how you describe them - although granted, "handsome, charming, engaging and amazingly talented" comes readily to mind - nor how many times you've seen them (whether it's your first or twenty-first concert), there's one thing you cannot help but think about Under the Streetlamp: These four guys really know how to put on a show!
And in Nashville, where we know a thing or two about superstar performers, consummate professionals and dazzling musicians, anyone who can bring their audience to its feet in a genuine, heartfelt standing ovation - one that's genuinely rewarded for an amazing show - deserves their moment in the spotlight. Thus, kudos are due to Shonn Wiley, David Larsen, Brandon Wardell and Eric Gutman, the four men who now make up the group known the world over as Under the Streetlamp, who opened a three-concert stand with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Enrico Lopez-Yañez, at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Thursday night.
During its 10 years in the entertainment industry, Under the Streetlamp (originally made up of four friends from the Chicago cast of the Tony Award-winning best musical Jersey Boys) has acquired legions of loyal fans - known as "Lampers" for the uninitiated - with exuberant and exhilarating live performances and multiple television specials for PBS stations around the country (although, ironically, their specials have yet to appear on Nashville's own WNPT-Channel 8). In fact, the first time I was treated to a live performance by Under the Streetlamp was in 2012 for the group's first-ever Music City appearance at Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
In my review of that concert - which was, according to the group's publicist at the time, Under the Streetlamp's first official review - I suggested that if Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of AMC's critically acclaimed 1950s/60s-set Mad Men, wanted to lend some authenticity and creative flair to his Emmy Award-winning tv series, he might sign Under the Streetlamp to a contract and give them a multi-episode arc on the show. Apparently, Weiner failed to heed my advice and so today I am issuing another suggestion, this time to Amy Sherman-Palladino, whose Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the current "it" show of the moment: Sign Messrs. Wiley, Larsen, Wardell and Gutman post-haste and send them out on tour with Midge. Your series will be more the better for it and audiences all over the world can be given even more opportunities to indulge themselves in the Under the Streetlamp musical phenomenon.
It's unlikely Sherman-Palladino will read this review, of course, but in today's world, anything is possible and so I will continue to proselytize about the wonderful talents and extraordinary showmanship of Under the Streetlamp...just in case. But had she been in the audience at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Thursday night, there is absolutely no doubt that she'd be coming up with better ideas than mine to include Wiley, Larsen, Wardell and Gutman in her series about a rising young female comedian in the early 1960s.
You see, Under the Streetlamp really is that good and each of the four men has so much stage presence - the ease with which they command the stage and, in turn, their audiences, is so impressive that you might be left awestruck - and so much innate talent that it's easy to become thoroughly captivated by their collective performance.
Opening with a raucous and stirring rendition of Bill Haley and the Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" (the four men take the stage to the tantalizing strains of "In The Mood" performed by the Nashville Symphony, suggesting an even deeper dive into the Great American Songbook), Under the Streetlamp takes their audiences on a sentimental, nostalgic journey via the songs of the American Radio Songbook, tunes which have become so pervasive in this American life that our hearts and our memories cannot help but be caught up in a sort of sensory overload that evokes all sorts of good vibrations and memories long since forgotten. It's the power of the music from a not-so-distant period in America, to be certain, that fills your heart with joy, but it's the authentic and effortless manner in which it is performed that leaves you begging for more.
Each man proves himself adept at talking the lead: While Gutman sings lead on "Rock Around the Clock," he is just as effectively followed up by Larsen on "Blue Moon," Wiley on "Dream Lover" and Wardell on "Runaway." Saying the four men are wickedly good purveyors of "doo-wop" style songs seems the easy way out to describe their act. Under the Streetlamp could do justice to any type of music - any song, quite frankly - with equal artistry.
Throughout the concert's two hours (don't worry, there's a 20-minute intermission to offer respite from dancing in your seat - or in the aisles, more specifically), each man shares personal anecdotes of his life and the events that have led them all to where they are today while singing songs that may very well have provided the soundtrack to your life. No matter your age, no matter your background, the playlist offered up by the men of Under the Streetlamp will have a dizzying effect on you, whipping you around from one memory to the next, the power of their music unmistakable.
Wiley's rendition of Leiber and Stoller's "Fools Fall in Love" is spectacular, while Larsen's performance of Little Anthony and the Imperials' 1964 hit "I Think I'm Going Out of My Head" very nearly stops the show with its emotional intensity, and the quartet's explosive finale for the first half of the show - a medley of Beach Boys songs that includes "Little Surfer Girl," "California Girls," "Don't Worry Baby" and "Good Vibrations" that is sure to delight - brings the audience to its feet for the first standing ovation of the evening.
The second stanza kicks off with "Little Bitty Pretty One" (with Gutman on lead) and moves fluidly into "Gotta Get Your Into My Life" (led by Wardell) and then segues effortlessly into Wiley's stunning read of Johnny Ray's "Cry," which is preceded by a heartfelt paean to that performer who, according to Wiley, "was Elvis before there was an Elvis."
Johnny Ray's "Cry" - easily one of the most poignant and evocative songs from the American Radio Songbook - carries even more creative gravitas when one considers that, despite his enormous capabilities, Ray is not a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, due to rampant rumors and innuendo about his sexuality that continue to dog him some 60 years after the fact. Nonetheless, Ray is often referred to as "the father of rock and roll" for his role in establishing the uniquely American genre of music that emerged from pop, blues and jazz standards of the day.
Wiley's take on "Cry" is electrifying - there's no need to gild the lily with other adjectives or modifiers - and easily makes the entire Under the Streetlamp concert ticket worth its price.
Having found its genesis during backstage conversations at Jersey Boys, Under the Streetlamp closes the concert with a medley of tunes from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: "Sherry Baby," with Larsen singing Valli's part; "Big Girls Don't Cry," in which Wardell does his best to rival Frankie Valli; and "Bye, Bye Baby," which gives Gutman his chance to rival the master. Finally, Wiley shines on "Walk Like a Man."
After yet another standing ovation, Wiley, Larsen, Gutman and Wardell return to the stage for a rousing encore that includes "Oh, What a Night!" - the Four Seasons' hit that's a standout in the Jersey Boys score - "Devil With a Blue Dress On" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" which infuses the audience with boundless energy designed to send them out into the streets on a musically induced high that will have them reveling in the music of their lives for hours, days, maybe even weeks to come.
No doubt about it, a night spent with Under the Streetlamp is exhilarating and, thanks to the four sharply-dressed men (let's face it, there's just something about four handsome men dressed in suits, who sing and dance with effortless grace, giving so freely of themselves onstage), we are already hoping for their return to Music City USA.
About this weekend's concerts with The Nashville Symphony
Under The Streetlamp comes to Nashville for a limited engagement on April 18-20 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
Audiences are invited to experience an unforgettable evening where they will hear classic hits from the American radio songbook performed by Under The Streetlamp and the Nashville Symphony, conducted by Enrico Lopez-Yañez. Tickets for Under The Streetlamp are on sale now and available at the Nashville Symphony box office (One Symphony Place, Nashville or by calling (615) 687-6400.
Inspired by the classic hits of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, Bobby Darin and others, Under The Streetlamp reimagines the best music of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s for today's audiences. With irresistible charm and rapport, Under The Streetlamp offers an evening of great music and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales with four critically acclaimed stars of stage and screen, Eric Gutman, David Larsen, Brandon Wardell, and Shonn Wiley.
This live concert celebration features an exceptional seven-piece band composed of world-class musicians, tight harmonies, and slick dance moves that takes audiences back to an era of sharkskin suits, flashy cars and martini shakers.
Under The Streetlamp was founded in 2009 by leading cast members from the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys. Since their origination, the group has performed in multiple televised PBS specials with coverage across the US and Canada. Under The Streetlamp has taken their remarkable show to venues in 105 cities across 48 states and 6 countries. During their impressive time on the road, Under The Streetlamp has partnered with some of the world's most prestigious symphony orchestras including The Cleveland Pops Orchestra, The Nashville Symphony, The Detroit Symphony, The Desert Symphony in Palm Desert and many more.
Current company members of Under The Streetlamp include Eric Gutman, David Larsen, Brandon Wardell and Shonn Wiley. Each performer carries with him an impressive list of credits. Between them, they have appeared on Broadway, in feature films and on television - including special appearances during the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, on The Tonight Show, The Primetime Emmy Awards, The Tony Awards, The Oprah Winfrey Show and in hit musicals including The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, 42nd Street, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Good Vibrations and Billy Elliott.