Ukuleles Par Excellence

By Christine Wiese

A tongue in cheek mixture of oh-so proper behavior, restraint, and occasional flings into music hall hijinks characterized the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s fecund production at Holstein’s Clausen Center last week.

If this is the result of some manic musical cross pollination, can you imagine what the gestation period was like?  Thirty two years! What a bunch of fun they must have had pulling all these odd bits and pieces together.  Shaping them into the entrancing diversity they serve up to audiences today.  Brings to mind that fine old BBC production of “Red Dwarf”.  Like the Cat’s role, this orchestra has morphed old and new standards into something not entirely new; just skewed enough from the originals to be disarmingly charming.  As the quasi-feline was inclined to say while sliding around space ship corners “Eee-Yow”!

The show was a pure pleasure from beginning to end – beautifully controlled chaos melded into one impeccable whole.  Offerings ranged from the plinking melody of “On The Beach At Waikiki” to the sonorous tones of “The Good; The Bad; and The Ugly”.  Who knew ukuleles could cross over and cover such a gamut of genres?

“How do we solve the intractable problem of all those conflicting ideas?” queried the group’s director.  He and his good companions then proceeded to demonstrate their brand of resolution protocol.  George Hinchliffe  opened with a selection by George Frederick Handel.  As he played in his own little realm, the others joined in one by one with favorites of their own – “Fly Me To The Moon”, “Hotel California”, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  Midway through this melodic menage, Hinchliffe calmly peeled a banana and took one decorous bite.  He finished up the set a la  solo all the while thoughtfully chewing and strumming through Handel.  The applause was long and loud!  A tour de force, if ever there was one.

Ditto for the rest of the evenings entertainment.  Talk about your juxtaposition.  The seven virtuosos’ manual dexterity wasn’t half bad either.  A person could barely see their fingers when they whammed into “Limehouse Blues” and their balalaika inspired take of “Leaning On A Lamp-post”.  And who would have expected that encore?  Surely “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme song has never been performed with such grand aplomb before.

The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain may be a “soup of contrasts” as noted in the program but they are devastatingly good – and good fun to boot.  As individuals, each musician is more than equal to their self-appointed task.  As a united force, they blew the place away.  What a finale to The Clausen Center’s seventh season.