KINGSBURY HALL PRESENTS, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Kingsbury Hall, University of Utah, Jan. 26

If just eight ukuleles qualify to be an orchestra, then the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is overqualified. Not only do these eight musicians play their instruments well, they’re virtuosos and singers and comedians. An evening with them is an experience you don’t easily forget — in a good way. Nothing is sacred, and everything is fair game for spoofing.

The Ukes (Photo: Courtesy of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain)

They have a huge repertoire of music, which audiences get to sample at their concerts. At their Kingsbury Hall appearance Monday they played everything from country to disco to rock to classical, all in their unique fashion. A two-and-a-half-hour show just doesn’t seem like enough time spent with these nutty Brits. The audience wanted more. This is the second time in as many years that The Ukes, as they’re affectionately known, have been to Utah (the last time was at Weber State University as part of their Cultural Affairs series). Hopefully they’ll be back within the next two years.

As much as the music they play is fun they’re shtick is hilarious, even if you’ve heard and seen them before. From one of their members playing a tiny uke about a third the size of the small soprano ukulele, to good natured jokes about their instrument of choice, everything is well worth the price of a ticket. And when you add the music to the mix, then it’s priceless.

You never know what you’re going to hear at one of their concerts. Monday night they opened with a short set that included Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” sung by band member David Suich. They followed that up with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” (which is most definitely not a Leonard Cohen song as The Ukes’ leader, George Hinchliffe, insinuated in his remarks).

Country music took a hit with Leisa Rea doing a credible job imitating Dolly Parton in Parton’s song “Joshua,” while disco music was also a target with a couple of songs, Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” and Chic’s “Le Freak.”

Other songs on the program were the Bee Gee’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Cher’s “Bang Bang” and Isaac Hayes’ theme from “Shaft.”

Classical music didn’t escape their attention, either.  As an ensemble they gave a fairly straightforward (as straightforward as classical music can sound for eight ukuleles) of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, while bass player Jonty Bankes showed off his virtuoso whistling in Bach’s Bourrée.

For one of their encores the group sang and played an amazing medley that combined six songs, including tunes by the Eagles, Gloria Gaynor and Cat Stevens, over a steady Handelian accompaniment provided by Hinchliffe.

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About Edward Reichel

Edward Reichel, author, writer and composer, has been covering the classical music scene in Utah since 1997. For many years he served as the primary music critic for the Deseret News. He has also written for a number of publications, including Chamber Music Magazine, OPERA Magazine, 15 Bytes, Park City Magazine and Salt Lake Magazine. He holds a Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He can be reached at Reichel Recommends is also on Twitter @ReichelArts.

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