It’s been a big year for Well Strung, the hunky New York City based string quartet known for mashing up classical music with contemporary pop songs in what they call “POPssicals.”
Since their one-night performance last year at Saugatuck Center for the Arts they’ve recorded their third album — now available only at their shows — and half of the ensemble expanded the group’s visibility by competing in CBS’s Amazing Race Season 30.
There was no mention of the reality TV experience on Thursday night’s two-hour performance at SCA, though they did play some tunes from their new album in addition to well-worn crowd pleasers with their humble, personable banter to transition between songs for a grateful nearly sold-out house that laughed, clapped and sang along with this group of extraordinarily talented men who put on a joyful show of innovative arrangements that elevated the mood as well as the temperature in the room.
They transformed Ed Sheeran and Beyonce’s “Perfect Duet” into a trio of Ed Sheeran, Bach and Jesus Christ, by fusing the top-40 hit with Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” resulting in the lovely effect of a lullaby with founding member and second violin Chris Marchant on acoustic guitar, Edmund Bagnell on first violin, Daniel Shevlin on cello, and Trevor Wadleigh on viola.
Other fun and surprising mash ups included The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” with Puccini’s “O Mio Babino Caro” to create what they called “Be My Baby Daddy”; Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo” with Taylor Swift’s “Mean” so we “remember to be nice to everybody”; “Meditation” from the opera Thaïs with Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” which “takes the same melody and Stevie Nicksifies it,” Marchant said; “Ave Maria” with Radiohead’s “Creep” for a particularly spectacular duet between Marchant and Shevlin; and an encore performance of Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” fused with “Whistle While You Work” from the 1937 Disney animated film “Snow White,” for a reminder that Monday is coming for those in the audience on vacation in the summer resort town of Saugatuck.
Well Strung is beloved in the gay resort towns where they predominantly perform in the summer, from Provincetown, Mass. to Rehoboth, Del., to our very own Saugatuck, Mich., where tickets to their regularly sold-out shows are a hot commodity.
They sing as compellingly as they play their instruments, and in addition to the “POPssicals” in which they harmonize and otherwise complement each other and the music vocally with the unique quality of their voices, they also played gorgeous instrumental arrangements of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and a medley of John Williams’ cinematic scores including that from the movies “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park,” and “ET.” They also performed singular songs with vocals “Part of That World” from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” “Moon River,” “Do-Re-Mi” from “The Sound of Music,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and a goosebump-inducing variation of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Well Strung have been together for six and a half years — as musicians as well as friends and roommates — and their rapport and timing show how very comfortable and connected they are with each other. They generously bring that camaraderie and friendship to their fans, encouraging connection on social media (do yourself a favor and follow them on Instagram), and always doing meet and greets and photo ops after each show.
On Thursday night, they even recognized Paul, an audience member celebrating his birthday by seeing Well Strung for the 35th time. They gave him a copy of their new CD and got the entire audience to sing “Happy Birthday.”
But it wasn’t just Paul who felt the show was all for him. There was something delightful and deeply moving here for everyone in the audience that was much more diverse than it was last year. With Well Strung’s extraordinary talent, clever yet earnest approach, broad generosity, and, let’s face it, sex appeal, it won’t be long before week-long engagements in much larger places sell out before we can get tickets.
Saugatuck Center for the Arts