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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Aug. 28, 2015 3 years ago

Theater review: The Swingaroos at Florida Studio Theatre

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This six-piece swing band turns back the clock
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

The Swingaroos are swinging and singing at Florida Studio Theatre. Based on the name, one might think the six-piece is a touring Australian swing band. No, mate. They’re also not an ad-hoc band assembled for a revue. They’re an actual, factual band on tour from New York City. And they can definitely play.

Kimberly Hawkey is the high-octane lead singer; light-fingered Assaf Gleizner plays the piano and arranged the tunes. Saxophonist/clarinetist Daniel Glaude, trombone player Nat Ranson, bassist Oliver Watkinson and drummer Uri Zelig add to the musical stew and keep it cooking. But it’s not all swing in the pot.

They’re a swinging band, but not a swing band. The Swingaroos cover American pop standards from 1930 to 1945—or recreate the sound with original tunes penned by Gleizner.

The mix includes a blistering bluegrass attack on the traditional “Mama Don’t Allow,” a sizzling Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance No. 5” (the Brahms tune that doesn’t put you to sleep), a Better Midler-esque “America the Beautiful,” Stephen Foster’s weepy “Old Folks at Home” and I thought I caught a riff from George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Meyer and Wolfe’s “Crazy Rhythm” and Arlen and Mercer’s “My Shining Hour” kick into true swing syncopation — a worthy take on the classics. But Gleizner and Hawkey’s original tunes all feel like old standards. “Someday Sunday Subway Boogie” has swing’s finger-popping vibe; “Grocery List” is a Duke Ellington-style litany of food-based double entendre; “Steam Train” has a shuffling, stride piano beat. Two stylistic chameleons, these kids. The songwriting duo could steal Doc Brown’s DeLorean, go back to 1940 and get on the airwaves.

There’s a loose narrative structure behind the music: The Swingaroos are getting their act together, getting ready to hit the big time in New York City. But the story stays in the background. Story aside, the performers’ raw talent and high-watt personality make the show work.

The band dynamic draws you in with all its back-and-forth reactions of patter, patois, significant looks and gags. Their garb helps to sell you, too. All the guys wear snappy fedoras, except for the Stetson-sporting trombonist. Hawkey’s poured into a spangled red dress and turns from sultry to sassy on a dime. She’s a true lead singer with real presence and substance behind the style. She has a great voice and does a wicked scat number that sounds like she’s playing the trumpet. But the level of musicianship is intimidating all around. Each Swingaroo gets a chance to show off and shine. Machine-gun drum solos, klezmer-style clarinet wailing, lightspeed piano medleys (including a four-hands boogie) and an intricate bass riff. They work nicely together and apart, these kids. 

The Swingaroos give you nothing but entertainment — and more than the empty calories of nostalgia. These young musicians aren’t serving up dead styles; they’re working within swing, stride, jump blues, or New Orleans jazz, as the case may be. And those styles are alive and well when they sing and play.

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