FORT WORTH It turns out there is something to be said for having a Y chromosome.
In an opera or a stage show, the diva often gets the loudest applause and the biggest bouquets. But DVA Productions has decided to give the boys their night out with It’s a Man’s World, a nicely structured revue that tips its hat to some of the greatest, most popular male vocalists of the last 50 years, from Elvis Presley to Pharrell Williams. It opened Friday night at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center.
This genre-jumping evening of song features five vocalists — Abel Baldazo, Brian Johns, Sheridan Keyton, Joshua Sherman and Rick Spivey — supported by Chris White (bass), Eddie Dunlap (drums) and musical director Joe Rogers on keyboards.
The show, written by DVA founder Sheran Keyton and directed by Tyrone King, has an extremely thin plot holding the tunes together. The premise is that a vocal quartet is trying to develop a show to take on the road (and maybe even to Broadway). An outsider (Spivey), unexpectedly added to the mix, is not exactly welcome. So the boys work through their numbers as Spivey tries to assimilate himself. The plot is not much, but it does work to give the evening a bit of a framework and does not get in the way of the music.
That is important, because the songs are the only thing that really matter in this show. The ensemble members, individually and in various groupings, cover some of the most indelible hits of soul, pop, rap and even country’s greatest practitioners. The Beatles, Elton John, Elvis Presley, the Temptations, Garth Brooks, Eminem and Michael Jackson all get some love in this show.
The vocal work is a bit uneven. Baldazo and Sherman maintain the best batting averages, while knocking a few numbers out of the park. Johns and Keyton are often overmatched by their material, but both singers also find comfort zones in certain numbers that allow them to sparkle. Spivey lacks power, but he plays the role of interloper well and breaks out some slick moves in a crowd-pleasing James Brown section near the end of the show.
The program has several high points. All five singers cover themselves in glory in a well-stepped tribute to Michael Jackson that closes the first act. Keyton finds his groove in the Elvis classic Blue Suede Shoes. Johns finds his soulmate in John Legend. And Baldazo, as usual, impresses with almost every note he sings.
Probably the most surprising moment in the show is an out-of-left-field nod to country crooner Garth Brooks. After Spivey pokes some wicked fun at Friends in Low Places, Sherman takes a sharp turn for the poignant with a highly moving take on Brooks’ ballad The Change.
All these efforts are superbly supported by Rogers and company. Everything the trio does buoys and augments the singers, while maintaining an excellent dynamic balance with the unmiked vocalists.
King also deserves points for putting some thought into how the numbers might be presented, to prevent the show from lapsing into just a series of songs.
Aside from a few unfortunate pairings of songs and singers (including Baldazo on I Left My Heart in San Francisco and Keyton getting beat up by Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), the only major flaw of the show is a set list that stays too close to the grandest hits of these legendary artists. We just don’t need to hear these fine, manly voices wasted on the overly familiar She Loves You. The show might be even stronger had it ventured deeper into its featured artists’ catalogs, as it does when the great soul singer Sam Cooke is honored by a rendition of one of his obscure gospel numbers instead of one of his radio-friendly hits.
So this revue has some hits and misses. But Rogers is so solid and the vocalists shine so brightly when the material is right that it is easy to be won over by the overall charm.