It’s not often one attends a string quartet concert and hears witty banter among the players, much less a description of the next arrangement as “an Italian sandwich” or “almost like a tiramisu.”
But this is exactly what Daniel Shevlin — the cellist with Well-Strung, the unabashedly sexy string quartet known for their inventive mash-ups of recognizable classical arrangements with contemporary pop songs — offered at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts Friday night.
What came next was a little Vivaldi and a little Lady Gaga, “our favorite Italian composers stuck on top of each other,” Shevlin said.
The boys were admittedly hungry, as was the Saugatuck audience for their terrific show. They call these pop-plus-classical songs “POPssicals,” also the title of their 2015 album, and make great use of the likes of Bach and Mozart as well as Britney Spears and Lourde. Their live performance offered a little something for everyone, both high- and low-brow, a wide variety of beautiful music, tasty eye candy, and a whole lot of fun, in two nicely-paced one-hour acts, that left the audience wanting more.
Based in New York City, the men of Well Strung have been playing together since 2012 and described by HuffPost as “hunky gay stars.” They’re a perfect fit for Saugatuck, though this is only the second time they’ve played in Michigan. They have a well established a following in another famously gay beach resort town, Provincetown, Mass.
However, cellist Shevlin performed in Mason Street Warehouse’s 2007 “Altar Boyz,” so this was a return to the theater for him. His boldly theatrical performance is shot through with his musical theater expertise, and two of his fellow musicians also have a background in the art form. Their dramatic flair has a big payoff, as each of the men complement each other stylistically in terms of vocals, playing, as well as looks.
First violinist Edmund Bagnell is a boyish Southerner who can turn on a kind of crooner dreaminess, especially in their “Moon River,” while also turning up the heat in “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
Second violinist Christopher Marchant has a breathier boy band pop voice, think Robbie Williams in his heyday, and his bulging biceps and blue eyes nearly upstage him, but not quite. He’s so charming he got the Michigan audience to cheer when he said he’s from Ohio.
Trevor Wadleigh seems to fill the strong silent archetype of the bunch, as his singing possesses much less dramatic flair, though his artistry on the viola is extraordinary.
Their work is most powerful in the way it makes us hear something new—even in songs we thought we already knew. Highlights of the performance included a fusion of U2’s 1987 hit “With or Without You” and Colbi Caillat’s 2014 “Try” you couldn't help but feel in the center of your chest; a gorgeous rendition of “Part of That World” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” they put together for Broadway Cares’ fundraiser Broadway Backwards; and Schubert’s “Ave Maria” blended with Radiohead’s 1993 hit “Creep” that brought new meaning and feeling to both classics.
Well Strung is utterly unique, and the infectiousness of their dynamic performance elevates the genres, the artists, and the songs they borrow, as well as those who experience the privilege and joy of being in the audience.