Whether the name Tenors of Rock sounds pretty awesome or pretty ridiculous, the new Harrah’s Las Vegas show baits a powerful trap.
Rock-chick dancers on stripper poles and “Phantom’s” big “Music of the Night” song in the same show?
Five theatrically trained voices singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” but also putting barbershop harmonies to “Sweet Child o’ Mine”?
Freddie Mercury, always one to see the humor in going over the top, probably would have smiled.
Axl Rose, who doesn’t seem to find much humor in anything, probably would not. In his case, a righteous head nod would be a sign of approval.
Turns out, you can have it both ways, for the most part.
The British vocal quintet cribs a little from theatrical jukebox musicals such as “Rock of Ages,” with its careful harmonies and extremely choreographed delivery: It’s “Stairway to Heaven,” on a stairway!
And fans of singing contests such as “The Voice” (these guys were on the British version) will be in tune with rock anthems arranged to punch the harmonies and show off voices more technically perfect than those of the original singers.
But “Rock of Ages” wrapped itself in a Spandex veneer of camp. The Tenors are swathed in heroic backlighting and dead serious about their “Bed of Roses,” the Bon Jovi power ballad earnestly launched from bar stools, or their “Carry On Wayward Son.”
Nobody ever went broke telling baby boomers that classic rock is the most important and amazing music ever. These guys do that repeatedly. But they also do it sincerely. Jimmy Denning especially comes off as way more humble than you’d think a big dude in a mohawk and kilt (he’s Scottish, you see) would.
And they balance the Broadway leanings with a real rock band (including former Slaughter drummer Blas Elias), giving the songs a credible crunch.
It helps that the five singers, all of them friends with theater credits, have voices that hit all the high notes but can still break out the sandpaper (Gareth Richards, who assembled the group, could be in an AC/DC cover band).
But you also get solo displays of vocal power from Gareth’s brother Dai Richards, Tommy Sherlock and Jonathan Williams. Why does Free’s “All Right Now” take a left turn into the end of “Hey Jude”? Because it’s the Tenors of Rock, dude.
But only a couple of times does it go off the rails into outright snickers: Williams, who played Valjean in “Les Miserables” on the West End, touching his chest and then pointing outward at as he softly croons, “You shook me all night long …”
And once or twice, they even find something we haven’t heard in these songs before. Since “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the defining anthem for the Broadway-rock concept, you fear it could be the most routine. Instead, the Tenors pull out new phrasings that make you really listen like it’s something new and wonder what that crazy song is all about.
Needless to say, Vegas would have thought of this eventually, if the TV talent shows hadn’t nudged things along. But if this one sticks — and it’s too calculated a crowd-pleaser not to — there’s an old-school Vegas trick still to learn: making it look spontaneous. The guys seem more concerned with hitting their marks than the Little Miss Nasty burlesque girls. The real theater here will be making us forget that it’s theater.