Fans of the Glee TV show and the Pitch Perfect films were thrilled by the performances of GOBSMACKED! at the Kennedy Center. The show earns the all caps, the exclamation mark, and the subtitle The Amazing A Cappella and Beatboxing Show.
GOBSMACKED! takes the increasingly popular world of a cappella singing and elevates it to a higher level. Six talented singers (three women, three men) and one incredible beat boxer provided a highly entertaining selection of songs both old and new in various styles.
The opening number of The Black Eyed Peas’ Pump It offered a good preview of the high energy blend of music and movement that characterized the show. The harmonies of the singers were outstanding on numbers such as David Bowie’s Life on Mars (featuring Marcus Collins) and The Killers’ Mr. Brightside (featuring Nicholas Hayes).
The up-tempo numbers were intermingled with powerful slow arrangements that were among the highlights of the evening. Original GOBSMACKED! member Joanne Evans sang a moving and sultry version of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World while Emilie Louise Israel gave a heart-breaking, downtempo spin to the Beatles’ She Loves You.
The show also featured a couple of clever musical mashups. Perhaps the best one combined Adele’s Rolling in the Deep with Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.
While the group vocals (well-orchestrated by Musical Director Jack Blume) were the focus of the evening, creator-producer Nik Doodson gives all of the performers moments to shine. Petite blonde Monika Sik Holm provided a powerful version of Duffy’s Mercy. Slender Ed Scott put away his surprising bass voice to demonstrate an equally talented falsetto register to perform Prince’s Kiss.
The longest and best solo turn of the evening came from Ball Zee, a three-time UK beat box champion. He had a ten-minute showcase in which he tuned a virtual set of unseen musical instruments and sound effects that was both stunning and hilarious. In addition to his vocal percussion skills throughout the show, he also was key to amusing mimed preambles to many of the numbers.
The creative team wisely focused the attention on the brilliant musical renditions. The cast is dressed in variations of black and white, and the staging features a wall of stereo amps with lights and a couple of moveable black staircases wheeled around at various times.
While the show is advertised as “an urban tale of love, loss and redemption” there is not much of a through-line to be found in the chirpy, mostly upbeat performance. Director Alexandra Spencer-Jones keeps the cast in constant weaving motion, although little of the movement is memorable (no choreographer is credited).
At times the depth and variety of sound make it hard to believe that no musical instruments are used in the show. There is just non-stop music, interrupted only when the performers asked if the cheering audience wanted an encore before launching into a closing version of the Beatles’ Hey, Jude.
The five Kennedy Center performances of GOBSMACKED! were among the earliest of the stops on its first North American tour. This show closed November 26, 2017. Given the strong performances and the enthusiastic crowd response, let’s hope that the Kennedy Center programmers take the cue and bring the company back soon.
GOBSMACKED! Created by Nic Doodson. Co-created by Jack Blume. Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones. Starring Marcus Collins, Ball-Zee, Joanne Evans, Ed Scott, Nicholas Hayes, Emilie Louise Israel, and Monika Sik Holm. Musical Director: Jack Blume. Scenic Design: Phillip Gladwell. Wall Lighting Design: Charlie Morgan-Jones. Additional Lighting Design: Zach Ciaburri. Sound Design: Hugh Walker. Associate Music Director: Andrew Carter. Produced by Nic Doodson, Andrew Kay & Associates, Spiritworks, and The TCB Group. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.