GOBSMACKED! - Theatre Review


By: Angela Guardiani

Let me get something important out of the way first; yes, GOBSMACKED! is a little like Glee. But not that much. The beatboxing/a cappella show on for a very limited run at the CAA Theatre lacks the melodrama and twisted storylines of the TV series and it has a decidedly British slant - Britpop is well represented by songs from Ed Sheeran, the Beatles (twice!), the Stones, David Bowie, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Duffy, and Queen. It’s not perfect - there are a few numbers that come off as a little flat or overly produced - but for the most part, it’s a lively, exhilarating show with some genuinely jaw-dropping moments featuring the beauty and power of the human voice.

GOBSMACKED! is a team of six vocalists - a bass and two tenors, two mezzos and a soprano -
and one beatboxer (more on him later). Most of the singers are Brits, and the two mezzos have
that bluesy, soulful style I associate with Joss Stone and UK soul - a powerful voice that can be
deeply husky, as in Joanne Evans’ take on “It’s a Man’s World.” It takes some serious moxie to take on a James Brown number and Evans kills it. 

On the men’s side, Ed Scott provides the bass line in the ensemble pieces. He’s a true bass, with a deep and rumbly voice that belies his slight frame, but also has an impressive falsetto that comes out to play on “Kiss” (my favourite Prince song! How did they know?). Matthew Darren is the only American. He’s a former American Idol contestant and he sounds like one - that big, belting, RnB-meets- pop sound. His take on Bowie’s “Life on Mars” was an audience favourite.

There’s a thin thread of story that connects the musical numbers in this cabaret-style show -
themes of love and heartbreak, like any good pop song should have - but to be honest, they’re
not necessary.

What sets this group of vocalists apart and makes the show unique is the presence of world
champion beatboxer, Patrick Hirst, aka Ball-Zee. The man is amazing. He can make a truly
dizzying amount of sounds that really shouldn’t be possible to come out of a human body, from a drop of water to a bicycle horn to a bass rumble that will bring you back to your club days. His beats anchor the other vocalists and give the songs depth and rhythm, and he has an extended solo piece - just the man and the microphone - that had a school group in our audience screaming in adoration. (Full disclosure - I didn’t scream, but I thought about it.) In addition, Ball-Zee has a mischievous, playful stage presence that’s just delightful. 

The second act is a lot more dynamic than the first. A take on “Telephone” from Evans and Emily Louise Israel does a decent job that Beyonce and Gaga wouldn’t be ashamed of, but it pales in comparison to the second act’s "Titanium". Having said that, though, this group does a great job capturing the driving rhythm of electro-pop without a single instrument. I’m most impressed by the two mashups in the show, one where Israel and Nick Hayes trade the choruses of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” back and forth until you can’t quite believe they’re not the same song, and one where “Paint it Black” lives inside “Back to Black” (my favourite Amy Winehouse song! How did they know?). It’s a little too on-the- nose, thematically speaking, but when the vocals are this good, who cares?

Vocalists as accomplished as the GOBSMACKED! cast can have a glossy, polished kind of presence. You can never forget that they’re professionals. But Ball-Zee’s infectious enthusiasm and listen-to- this-cool- thing-I-can-do- with-my- voice! kind of energy feels refreshingly authentic. Will you scream? Maybe, maybe not. Will you walk out of the theatre with a catchy hook in your head? Undoubtedly. 

GOBSMACKED! is playing at the CAA Theatre until March 25th. To purchase tickets, please visit: https://www.mirvish.com/shows/gobsmacked