You probably already know that I love ukuleles, but somehow I made it this far in life without ever hearing of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Fortunately, my dad surprised me with a ticket and we headed over to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts to check out what it was all about. I have really been missing out!
The Cerritos Performing Arts Center has been a cool place to see a show since it opened in 1993. It is a classy facility with 1800 seats, good lines of sight, and nice acoustics. It is in a safe neighborhood with free parking, too. Can you beat that? They have over 150 performances a year with a diverse selection of artists: I have seen Isaac Hayes, Shirley Jones, Kris Kristofferson, and Loudon Wainwright III there, and had a real blast over the years.
Well, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been around longer than that, and with remarkably little turnover of membership: they formed in 1985 and the newest member of the touring octet joined 23 years ago. The have recorded plenty of CDs and DVDs, but touring is where the magic happens – they have sold out shows at the Sydney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Can you say that about your band?
I can hear what you are thinking: “Who can listen to two hours of ukulele music?” Well, it is not 2 hors of ukulele music – it is two hours of entertainment. There is a lot of fabulous British comedy thrown in between an assortment of songs that you would not expect to hear from 8 ukuleles (soprano, concert, tenor, bass, and a few surprise ukes here and there). Plus they do not depend on the typical Hawaiian strumming style – they dig in with picks as needed and play wonderful chords. This is a necessity as there are no drums or keyboards – just the ukuleles.
These folks are real musicians, and this show is not a comedy gag. They sing well with good harmonies, and they are all very skilled on their instruments – then again playing a few hours a day for 30 years should make one proficient. They do have good comedic timing though, and it is a joy to watch them on stage.
As they run through a few dozen songs during the course of the evening each of the members take the lead on a few songs, and it is a diverse collection of material. Everything from Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” They did a little classic musical (Saint-Saens “Danse Macabre”) and Rose Royce’s disco classic, “Car Wash.” This really does represent Jung’s theme of the duality of man. I am not going to ruin any more surprises, other than to say that their rendition of the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” was breathtaking.
All in all, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain put in a solid two-hour performance (plus a 20-minute intermission), and it was truly a fun evening -- I would love to see them again sometime. Check out their website at www.ukuleleorchestra.com to see where they are going to be next. They seem to be constantly touring all over the world, and they have a lot gigs in the US, Germany, Finland, France, Denmark, the UK and Poland coming up. You will not be disappointed!