Recapturing Motown’s mojo in FST's cabaret production.
“Soul Mates: A Journey to Hitsville” is taking a road trip to Motown in a Florida Studio Theatre cabaret production. The Soul Mate band showcases the vocal talents of Ryan Connolly, Jordan Craig, Andrew Mauney and Luke Minx, accompanied by the indefatigable Jim Prosser, banging out tunes on various keyboards. Their revue recaptures the Motown sound of the 1960s and early ’70s. And what a sound it was.
Precise arrangements and crisp vocal harmonies, rooted in Doo-Wop’s polyphonic complexity and Gospel’s holy shout. A sound unleashing the power of the human voice, but backed up by dense, multilayered instrumental tracks akin to Phil Spector’s “wall of sound.” A predominantly African-American style, although performed by four white guys here. They could be plaid, for all it matters. It’s the sound that counts. And these guys can definitely sing.
These soulful mates do a wicked rendition of “Stop! In the Name of Love,” pulling two guys from the audience to complete the Supreme experience. They also climb the mountain of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” go the distance of Edwin Starr’s “25 Miles,” re-imagine The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination,” call down The Penguins’ “Earth Angel,” deliver on The Marvellette’s “Mr. Postman” and get loose on Stevie Wonder’s “Up Tight.” It’s a performance of tight vocal harmonies—original arrangements, not the derivative imitations of your average lazy cover band.
They do justice to Motown’s greatest hits. It’s a high level of difficulty. But they’re backed up by high-level talent.
Music director Ryan Touhey is firing on all cylinders. Costume designer Susan Angermann decks out the dudes in sharkskin suits as slick as their sound. Bill Castellino serves up crisp direction and snappy choreography. He wrote a clever script, too, with help from David Rudder and a certain band from down-under.
Yeah, about that script. Funny thing …
The band on stage shares their back story between tunes. Four guys from Wichita, supposedly, but that’s just the script. Their scripted tale retells (and Americanizes) the journey of a real band from Australia called Human Nature. Turns out, the band’s not only white, they’re fictional. But why hold it against them?
The song’s the thing, not the story. They’re four great musicians singing soul with soul. Their band just happens to be make-believe.
But their music is as real as it gets.
IF YOU GO
“Soul Mates: A Journey to Hitsville” runs through Feb. 6, at Florida Studio Theatre’s Court Cabaret, 1247 First St., Sarasota. Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org for more information.
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