Bee Gees Show
No-frills production a worthy tribute to the real Bee Gees
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|The Australian Bee Gees Show|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Sure it’s easy to laugh now: The disco-ball sparkle shirts carefully unbuttoned so as to display chest fur draped with pounds of shiny gold chains. The bright, white pants so tight they probably had to be sewn on. The porn ‘staches. The whole concept of disco. But back in the day, there was nobody bigger than the Bee Gees. Nobody. For those of us of a certain age, songs such as “Stayin’ Alive”, “Nights on Broadway” and “Tragedy” provided the white hot epicenter of the indelible four years that are High School. More than that, the Bee Gees – whose song catalogue stretched from the mid-1960s into the Reagan administration – were deft craftsmen whose tricky, close harmonies marked them as exceptional performers as well as composers.
For those who came of age with in between “Welcome Back Kotter” and “Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo”, The Australian Bee Gees Show will either provide a well-tuned nostalgic romp down memory lane and/or a mid-life crisis moment when one is faced with the cold, hard fact that “Saturday Night Fever” opened – gulp – almost forty years ago. Either way, the show is at once cheesy, charming and musically impressive, the first for obvious sartorial reasons ( did we mention the sparkle shirts and pants so tight that’d be inside out were they any snugger?) and the last because the trio of Matt Baldoni (Barry), Jack Leftley (Maurice) and Paul Lines (Robin) do a pretty amazing job of mimicking the Brothers Gibb’s tight, tricky harmonies and Frankie Valli-worthy falsettos.
The tribute show is also memorable for another significant reason. The Bee Gees hearken from a time when arena-worthy concerts were primarily just that – concerts. The vocalists didn’t lip synch (at least not to the degree they do today); the stage show was centered on the music rather than jaw-dropping feats of special effects and choreography performed by elite-level gymnasts. Pre-1981, there was no MTV and thus no hyper-produced music videos. That meant the Top 40 were about sounds far more than visuals, the occasional appearance on late-night TV or Osmond Family Christmas Special notwithstanding.
The Australian Bee Gees Show remain true to that history, delivering a straight-up two-hour tribute concert that relies first and foremost on music. Lines, Leftley and Baldoni indulge in minimal low-key patter that involve several bad jokes, swaying to the music as they deliver largely choreography-free renditions covering the decades from the 1960s into the 1980s.
When the trio (backed by the able combo of Mario Basner on drums, David Inamine on bass guitar, Damion Puluse on guitar and vocals and Pete Sprague on keyboard and vocals) launches into the disco-era hits, they become a sonic time machine as 1977 comes roaring back to the tunes of “Night Fever”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Jive Talkin’”. (“Stayin’ Alive” is wisely saved for the encore.) But the show also focuses on the Bee Gees non-disco hits, including the Beatle-esque “Lonely Days”, the delicately haunting “I’ve Just Gotta Get a Message to You” and the show choir standard “Nights on Broadway”.
While the show is billed as a "multi-media" tribute concert, the "multi" is pretty much limited to video pastiches of zeitgeist-defining cultural moments (footage from Vietnam, Nixon, Studio 54’s iconic sign, R2D2 and C3PO, etc.), modest lighting effects and the occasional outpouring of fake fog. As far as production values go, it’s downright low-key compared to the techno-extravaganzas of arena concerts today. Far from diminishing the show, its lack of spectacle only adds to its charm.
Mock those tight trousers and carefully manscaped plumage all you want – the music that comes out of the Australian Bee Gees is fantastic, and a worthy tribute to the real Bee Gees. The lack of techno-distraction means that nailing the vocals is crucial, and this tribute band does that handily.
The Australian Bee Gees Show continues through August 4th at Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm and 6pm. Tickets are $35-$80, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayinChicago.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)