Previews: THE CHOIR OF MAN at Straz Center

Nine UK and Irish lads bring an authentic Irish Pub to Tampa

By: Sep. 29, 2023
Previews: THE CHOIR OF MAN at Straz Center

Opening on October 3 and running through November 26, prepare for a night of Fun, laughter, and good music as THE CHOIR OF MAN hits the Straz Center. This international hit musical is a celebration of community and the power of song, and it's guaranteed to leave you feeling uplifted and entertained.

The show follows a group of nine talented guys who come together each night at a local pub to sing, dance, and share stories. They cover everything from pop and classic rock to folk, Broadway, and pub classics, so there's something for everyone to enjoy. And with their infectious energy and enthusiasm, the cast will have you singing along and dancing in your seat in no time.

But THE CHOIR OF MAN is more than just a musical. It's also a celebration of the human spirit and the importance of connection, and it changes every night based on the audience. The show explores themes of friendship, love, and loss, reminding us that we're all stronger together.

Director TOM BRANDON and Connor Going (Poet) are members of the original cast of THE CHOIR OF MAN, who have been part of the show's journey for the last six years.

Brandon said the musical opened many doors and connected the cast with people worldwide.

"The show's all about community and friendship, and we've really built those things in the last few years," he said. "We pride ourselves on our interactions with the audience throughout the show. I feel like American audiences aren't used to our show's realism and authenticity. Our nine cast members play a heightened version of themselves. We feel the audience leaves feeling like they met nine new friends. The audience comes on stage at the preshow. We welcome them on stage to have a beer with us, so they'll meet the guys as themselves, not a character like Elphaba or whoever. There's something really special and unique about our show."

Going explained, "All those positive interactions that we feel as a cast, and that sense of community and brotherhood, we want to extend that to the audience. It's not an exclusive thing of, like, we've got our little troop, and you're coming here to witness us. It's it's inviting the audience to be part of that. Whatever is going on in your life, if you're in a celebratory place, or if you're in a slightly down place, and you just want a group of friends to sing and cry with. Everyone is welcome, and we want to really express that outwards and invite the audience in."

Going said they were drawn to the show because of the opportunity to be part of something on the ground floor of a new creation.

"It was getting to create from scratch and bring ourselves to it. I think both of us are really proud of where it's landed at now. As Tom says, it's a celebration of community, friendship, masculinity, and all the emotional ups and downs that come with that. It's a really fun night out."

"As a director, I started in the original cast, and the show is like my baby. I know in each moment exactly what we are trying to achieve. I stopped doing the show about a year ago," explained Brandon. "I knew I needed to pick up this role because I knew my experience in the show was invaluable to the guys. It's something really cool for me."

When asked for their favorite memorable moment in the tour, Going said that there were plenty of them. He recalled an amusing incident within a number called "Jungle Stomp," where the men were making music and jamming on instruments. While simultaneously tap dancing and playing a melodica keyboard you blow into to make sound, the dancer did a spin.

"The melodica went flying out of his hands. I think it was caught by an audience member. It's probably the biggest cheer of the night, but the look on his face of just abject terror, as it went sailing out jumps to mind for me. It was hilarious," said Going.

Brandon described a beautiful stained-glass church on their US tour that was converted to McGowan Theatre in Charlotte, NC, that was, sadly, lost due to the pandemic.

"I think it was about a 500 seater. There wasn't that spare seat in the house, and the audience in that venue was so close to us that they could smell us. It was great. We were trying to recreate that pub feel. I learned last year that that theatre had closed down. Our show was about celebrating these community spaces. That really stuck with me. That how special we felt in that venue and now that it's gone for the people of Charlotte."

Going said that his performance of Luther Vandross's song Dance with My Father has taken on a particularly emotional meaning. Adopted as an infant, Going had been trying to get back in touch with his birth parents during the pandemic.

"I found and was able to establish contact with my birth father, but not just a few months ago. Suddenly, this song that I've been aware of so many times has a whole new relevance. Getting to explore that in this show, in this supportive space with the whole cast and team, continues to be really special."

Brandon and Going relayed an unexpected but funny story from their Australia tour of an audience member who went on stage to help himself to a beer during Going's poignant speech in the show.

"We're a pub, but we're literally NOT a pub. During Connor's sentimental speech in a heartfelt moment, a guy just came on stage and asked for a beer."

The men agreed that this show is entirely different from attending a show like Wicked or Hamilton, where you are part of the audience coming to see a show.

"There's no fourth wall. We'll invite you to join us for a beer. We want to get to know you because it enhances the connection, not just for the audience but for us as well. We feed off the audience's energy. From the get-go, as soon as you step into the theatre, it's the feeling that you're not in a performance space. You're in a Celtic pub with lads from the UK and Ireland. Hopefully, they ride that through all the night… and if it takes us to another (Tampa) pub that night, all the better."

Going hopes by experiencing the interactive show, that the audience will appreciate their local pubs more.

Brandon stressed, "For me, in my village in Ireland, the pub is so much more than a place where we go to drink. It's a place where we watch football, have a Sunday roast, and sometimes have a cup of tea and a coffee. And it's not just a place to get drunk; it's a place where we can come and talk about our worries or leave them at the door. It's up to you, and it's such a welcoming environment. It's a safe space where you can go just simply be."

When asked for three words to describe the performance, Brandon said, "Fun. Heartfelt. Authentic."

Going added, "Joyful. Fulfilling." He paused, then said with a huge smile, "Beer."                        

THE CHOIR OF MAN is at Straz Center from October 3 to November 26. Learn more and get tickets:®id=101&

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