Club Review: The Boy Band Project

August 29, 2021 | By | Add a Comment

The Boy Band Project: L. to r.: Kevin John Murray, Travis Nesbitt, Christopher Brasfield, Jesse JP Johnson. (Photo: Tamra Sheehan)

Just the name, The Boy Band Project, conjures so many possibilities ranging from tongue-in-cheek parody to soaring harmonies, from impossibly romantic ballads to irresistible dance rhythms.  In their debut at Feinstein’s/54 Below, the four talented performers (Kevin John Murray, Travis Nesbitt, Christopher Brasfield, Jesse JP Johnson) tried to hit all these buttons and succeeded in large part, but they took on, perhaps, too many of them to have a fully cohesive whole from its disparate elements.  

The merch table in the lobby, the totally unnecessary introductory video on the big screens to the left and right of the stage, and the overall concept, gave the evening the feel of show designed not for a NYC cabaret but for a national concert tour or a cruise, appealing to a less sophisticated audience. This was particularly disappointing because the four actor-singer-dancers (with a multitude of Broadway and theatre credits) were terrific and, on many levels, were superior to the groups to which they paid tribute.  What a subversive twist the show would have taken if they had decided to embrace and celebrate that superiority. 

Part of their mission seemed to be to put the pleasure back in “guilty pleasure,” and the extent to which they succeeded made this an entertaining evening.  There was a tease in the opening medley that reminded us that boy bands are not a recent phenomenon, starting with the Beatles’ “Let It Be” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) and The Four Seasons’ “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night)” (Bob Gaudio, Judy Parker). That tease was quickly abandoned however, as they jumped forward to Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” (Denniz Pop, Max Martin) and NSYNC’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart” (Max Martin, Kristian Lundin).  As with many medleys like this, I found myself wanting more of each song. 

Johnson has a soaring ’90s pop sound that pierced the stratosphere and took audience excitement along with him. Nesbitt was the closest to an emcee and anchored the show with a relaxed delivery of the patter, switching styles and sounds like a chameleon, in addition to having biceps to spare.  Murray, despite a slightly awkward physicality, was vocally solid and contributed delightful leads and harmonies with some humorously overacted drama in the love songs. Brasfield had, for my money, the best voice in the show with a smooth, rich R&B sound that revealed rich lows and controlled, passionate highs at unexpected moments.  Together, their harmonies were tight throughout and could not be faulted.  

(Photo: Tamra Sheehan)

The show reached an early high point with the Backstreet Boys’ “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” (Max Martin, Herbie Crichlow).  An extended medley of hits was given an added boost of fun with the addition of flashing rainbow lights on their sneakers.  The infectious “Story of My Life” (Julian Bunetta, Tiziano Ferro, Jamie Scott, John Ryan, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik—isn’t it amazing that this many writers were needed to come up with one song) not only gave One Direction a run for its money, but won that race handily. 

After a few years of performing historic boy band hits, the desire to stretch out the repertoire was perhaps inevitable.  The sentiment is fine, but Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” however pleasing the harmonies, seemed an odd and perhaps pandering choice. Their Boy Band Group original, “What Makes You Beautiful” (Savan Kotecha, Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk) fared much better and was more of an extension of the other material. A guest appearance by violinist Adrianna Mateo made the number even more special.

Other than the violin, the music was entirely pre-recorded, and it didn’t bother me at all; in fact, it was the best use of “taped” backing I have experienced in a cabaret. There was, however, one serious flaw in the evening.  The choreography was lacking in precision and proved a constant distraction.  It came across as ragtag and under-rehearsed in a show where the exact opposite was not only expected, but required. It was obvious that each man could dance but they too often failed to do it in unison.

Undeniably, The Boy Band Project provided a fun show.  I just can’t help thinking how much more fun and how much more satisfaction there was to be had.  

***

Presented at Feinstein’s/54 Below on August 22, 2021.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

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Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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