Salvation Army Hall, 209 The Parade, Island Bay, Wellington

18/03/2021 - 20/03/2021

NZ Fringe Festival 2021

Production Details

Real Men Don’t Sing! But some have, can, do and will anyway 

But if they didn’t what would they do instead? 

Vocal Blokes present you a night of song and musical participation. A celebration of all singing voices whilst tackling plenty of masculine qualities faced in Aotearoa.

With so many improvised movements, songs and harmonious calls and responses we need your help to find our vocal parts!

Are you man enough to sing with us?

The Salvation Army Hall, 209 The Parade, Island Bay

The Salvation Army Hall, 209 The Parade, Island Bay
18 – 20 March 2021

General Admission $17.50
Concession $12.25
Fringe Addict $13.00

Performed by Vocal Blokes

Designed by David Conroy

Theatre , Musical ,

1 hr

Robust harmonies, full-hearted singing, groovy and exhilarating rhythms, excellent conversational patter …

Review by Pepe Becker 19th Mar 2021

We are greeted at the door of the old Salvation Army Hall by a friendly bloke affiliated with the choir; it’s almost as if we’re arriving at a family reunion or a cousin’s wedding. This sense of casual informality is further enhanced by the interior of the hall itself (which is where these ‘Vocal Blokes’ meet to sing every Thursday night).

With its walls lined with percussion instruments of every size and shape, unmatching chairs in makeshift rows, and banners and posters draped about, the place feels more like an interesting old grandfather’s study or music room, than a concert venue. 

Being not a real man myself, nor indeed any sort of man but rather a ‘real’ (Classically-trained) female singer, accustomed to certain etiquettes and traditions around concert-going, I find the jovial atmosphere in the room, with performers and audience alike milling around and chatting before the gig, wonderfully refreshing, and a good indicator of the inclusive and vibrant energy of the show to come.

When the first number (‘Tender One’ by Nino Raphael, the Musical Director) begins – after a couple of humorous false starts and a ‘deep breath’ – we as the audience immediately feel compelled to join in. This is due partly to the fact that half of the choir are interspersed among us for the first couple of phrases, and also to the warm and enthusiastic whole-body conducting gestures of Nino, inviting us all to sing along in this wonderfully expressive ‘call and response’ story, which lists the many things one must ‘hold on to’ in life, especially as a man. 

With rousing voices, including a few solo lines, strong unisons, layered polyphony and stacked harmonies, and driving percussion provided with expertise and style by Andreas Lepper, groovy synth keyboard sounds and vocal cues from Nino, and great facial expressions and natural body movements all round, it is clear that these blokes are really enjoying this ‘evening exploration of masculinity through song, improvisation and musical participation’ – and so are we. 

Witty spoken interludes and subtle changes in lighting guide us from song to song, and the segue into Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’ is particularly apt as we journey back to the 1980s for this classic number. Somehow even these raunchy lyrics of yesteryear (which are quite raunchy indeed, even by today’s standards!) take on an innocent exuberance when delivered by these guys.

By contrast, ‘Off Your Chest’ (composed for this show by Nino) plays more like a musical theatre skit, with a central character telling, through speech and song, about his experiences of being mocked in the pub for having “moobs”, and of visits to a doctor, for a “man-o-gram”, and a psychiatrist. It is in this piece, that we are invited to read between the lines of “male breasts, male breasts; masculinity is not a test”, and explore the more vulnerable side of what it is to be a man. The gentle “ooh-ooh” plagal cadence at the end of this number is both funny and moving, and elicits a spontaneous “Amen” (Ah, men!) from me.

To bring us back to a happier note – although the text of this next song bemoans the wearisome plight of men working all night – Harry Belafonte’s ‘Banana Boat Song’ is full of rhythmic verve, led with lively Caribbean beats and vocalisations from Andreas. It’s such a hit that we get to hear it again – the second time faster, with a full complement of percussion instruments, played by choir members and even a couple of audience members too. 

Participation is the name of the game in the show’s title track, ‘Real Men Don’t Sing’, its musical structure pre-written by Nino and some lyrics improvised / composed on the spot, based on comments and responses from the audience.
“What is it that men don’t do?” he asks.
“Cry, dance, cook, care, fear, blush… love…(?)… sing….(?)” come the replies.
But wait! Hang on… We are singing, and we do do those things. The verdict is unanimous: it is agreed that what real men do, and need to keep doing, is talk to each other, and ask… ‘What’s Going On?’ – Marvin Gaye’s 1971 song about brotherhood is the perfect end to a perfect night of entertainment.

The combination of robust harmonies, full-hearted singing – at times unashamedly raw and rough, at times beautifully quiet and vulnerable – the groovy and exhilarating rhythms of extraordinary veteran percussionist Andreas, Nino’s strong vocal leadership and occasional addition of sensitive chordal keyboard vamps, along with fab mood lighting and excellent conversational patter between songs, puts a huge smile on my dial, which remains until the end of the show. Actually, I notice I’m still smiling and internally grooving during a brief visit to the supermarket afterwards.

This is ‘community entertainment’ in the REAL sense of the phrase, and I highly recomMENd that you go along – and SING on! 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council