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Festival Statesmen Chorus presents Choir Boys - Interview

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by Chloe Cannell (subscribe)
I'm a writer with a love of young adult novels, musical theatre and vegetarian food.
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Talented Khammash brothers talk new jukebox musical
Professional group shot
Image courtesy of Festival Statesmen Chorus

Australia's award-winning a cappella ensemble the Festival Statesmen Chorus presents their new show 'Choir Boys' at Adelaide Fringe Festival 2019.

Based in Adelaide, the dynamic, all-male vocal group will have their 10th anniversary this year. Their latest original jukebox musical 'Choir Boys' brings their renowned vocal and performance excellence to the stage again. The production features funny stories, choreography and music ranging from contemporary to classical guaranteed to have you humming and laughing along.

I was lucky to chat with the director Mitre Khammash and musical director John Khammash of 'Choir Boys' about their show and Festival Statesmen Chorus.

Tell us a bit about yourselves!
J: Hello, I'm John. I'm one of the founding members of the Festival Statesmen Chorus (FSC). I was a 12 turning 13-year-old little boy who didn't know much about the art form [a cappella music] and I got roped into doing an audition which was just singing 'happy birthday'. All of a sudden, I found myself being a part of the ensemble in the lead section, so I've worked my way up in the art form and genre to be the acting musical director of the FSC and musical director of the show 'Choir Boys'.

M: Hi, I'm Mitre, I've been with the FSC since its inception. I'm an inaugural member. I was 17 when I started and I'm about to be 27 this year. I sing tenor and lead and I'm also the current president of the organisation.

Who are the Festival Statesmen Chorus (FSC)?
J: We are a bunch of close mates who sing a cappella. We're just your average Joe Blokes who have day jobs. We have doctors, we have physicians, we have dental people, we have teachers, we have students and we all collectively get together and do this one art form because we all love to perform.

Who are the key individuals involved with the production of 'Choir Boys'?
M: Nicholas (Nick) Munday wrote the show and I directed it. In terms of its artistic input and story and the entire shape, delivery, tone, characters, it's all us. John musically directed the entire show making sure the music is up to scratch and we still hold up our standard of singing. It's worth noting we are not a theatre company. We are an a cappella group and we will do our humanly best to put on the best possible theatrical show we can. There are a number of guys in the FSC who are no strangers to theatre, performing, acting, singing and dancing, so it's been easy for some people. And for other members, it's been a challenge.

J: All of our musical arrangements are done in-house from musicians within the group.

M: There's also been a massive admin team that's been the majority of the leadership team of the FSC. Plus, we've had a bunch of artists work and liaise with us on the show. One of our members Ben Catt does an amazing job on the graphic design. Family and partners have helped work on set construction and costumes.

What is the basic premise of Choir Boys?
M: 'Choir Boys' is about a choir that goes on tour. It starts with the choir at a soundcheck and they decide to go out partying, but they forget they have a performance in the morning. We watch the turn of events throughout the night until morning. It's loosely based on our [members of FSC] nights out and is based on moments, events and things that happened while on tour.

What led the Festival Statesmen Chorus to create Choir Boys?
M: 'Choir Boys' will be the third a cappella musical I direct. The first one was called 'Counting Bars: The Tale of the Singing Inmates' which was not associated with FSC but had members of from the organisation involved. It was basically to see whether the concept worked. 'Counting Bars' ran in 2015 at the Fringe and it toured again in 2016 around the state. In 2017 FSC got on board with me, I wasn't president at the time, and we put together another a cappella musical called 'Pretty Boys'. It was a wild storyline about a boyband who got involved with the Russian mafia and it was the most intense ridiculous thing ever. It was similar [to Choir Boys]. There were costumes, lighting, set, you name it. It had a sold-out season. In 2018, we returned to our roots by doing a concert alongside another a cappella group with classical music. This year we are excited to return to the musical theatre realm.

What are you hoping for your audience members to experience by attending your show?
J: As musical director, I hope they experience the musicality and precision FSC usually provides. As a performer, I hope they enjoy the overall package and learn a little bit about what happens to groups who tour to festivals.

M: The key thing is this a reverence of parody. We really are poking fun at ourselves. We want to showcase a bit of our personality as a group to an audience who may not know us. We also hope they will be impressed with the music. We've had a few comments from some people who thought we had a backing track playing or beatbox track but it's all live and from our voices. We hope to wow audiences like any other show would and make an impact at the Fringe.

What about Tandanya Theatre appealed most to you?
M: Our previous show 'Pretty Boys' was at Tandanya Theatre in 2017 and we packed it out. When we told the venue we were coming back they were happy have to us.

J: The venue is also a little different to what the FSC are used to so it gives our members a chance to perform in a traditional theatre setting.

M: It's a proper theatrical venue. It's not a tent, it has proper masking, it has a full lighting rig, proper get up, no sound bleed, it's the perfect venue for this type of show.

What do you think will help your show stand out from other similarly-themed shows?
M: I think the zaniness of it will stand out. The people who will see our show are our community of supporters and a lot of our community of supporters are people who sing in other choirs or groups alike us or musicians or friends of musicians. They'll either resonate with the story in terms of what happens in it, or be impressed with or connect to the music. Since it's a jukebox musical all the songs are existing songs people know and we've put them in a dramatic context. So, they'll recognise the song and they'll be listening to it a cappella so they wouldn't have heard the arrangement. It's a new twist on songs everyone knows.

J: From an outside point of view, for those who don't know us or what we're about, the fact we can coordinate 22 humans on stage in an a cappella musical is impressive, it's a lot of bodies on stage. There's 100% commitment to the story and we incorporate full choreography and everyone's singing with their hearts and everyone's on the same page. It's almost unheard of.

What's next for the Festival Statesmen?
J: We have 1 main goal. In September last year we competed in Barbershop Australia's National Convention where we were awarded the highest Australian score ever. That score now permits us to represent Australia in the international competitions and we've elected to go in June/July 2020. We are currently ranked 12th in the world so we are trying to hopefully bump us up into the top 10, although those rankings will change drastically. So, everything we do from here is fundraising for the trip to LA.

Choir Boys will be performing at Tandanya Theatre from February 20 - 24. Tickets for the limited season are selling fast so book your tickets now.

For more information on the Festival Statesmen Chorus and their upcoming events visit their website and follow their Facebook page.

adelaide fringe, tandanya theatre, music, musical, theatre, a cappella
Image courtesy of Festival Statesmen Chorus
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Why? Vocal and performance excellence from local talent
When: Feb 20 - 24 at 8pm, weekend matinees 4:30pm
Where: Tandanya Theatre
Cost: $21.75 - $28
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