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Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, May 27, 2016

Reviewed by Joel Benjamin for Cabaret Scenes

Well-Strung-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Until some second-rate group imitates them, Well-Strung has the classical string quartet/hunk market all to itself. They are superb, good-looking, witty, technically adroit musicians who somehow manage to combine high-class classical music with pop without ever being boringly high brow. Astonishingly, they play without benefit of scores.

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This makes for a smooth show unfurling in a comfortably energetic pace.

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Apropos of “energetic,” they began with a mash-up of Rossini’s William Tell Overture (“Hi-ho, Silver!”) and Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” (Freddie Mercury).

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From then on most of the rest of the the pop songs were paired with bits of classical music. 

Radiohead’s “Creep” (Thom Yorke), a humorous self-deprecating ditty, was (somehow) effectively combined with Gounod’s “Ave Maria.” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” that formerly ubiquitous hit, found its musical partner in, of all things, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.

The most intricate dovetailing was the trio of the Dvorak’s rousing “American” String Quartet, Copland’s iconic “Hoedown” from Rodeo and Taylor Swift’s get-even song, “Mean.” It’s difficult to pinpoint just how they enhanced each other, but they did.

All the while, the four physical specimens adeptly plucked and bowed their instruments and sang mind-bogglingly complicated instrumental and vocal arrangements, some perky, some lusciously colored and, in one case, extraordinary.

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  That was their encore, Leonard Cohen’s dark-hued “Hallelujah,” which was haunting.

Their stories about their lives and the songs were well written and to the point.

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Edmund Bagnell (1st violin), Chris Merchant (2nd violin), Trevor Wadleigh (viola) and Daniel Shevlin (cello) each take on subtle roles.

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  One’s the hunk, another the kid, etc.  Shevlin seemed to be the designated “loner” and was allowed to zip through the Prelude to Bach’s Suite No. 1 alone on the stage.

They exude a loveable campiness (they did meet in Provincetown!

) without any explicit gayness. Their talent and exuberance make their appeal universal.

Joel Benjamin

A native New Yorker, Joel was always fascinated by musical theater. Luckily, he was able to be a part of seven Broadway musicals before the age of 14, quitting to pursue a pre-med degree, which led no where except back to performing in the guise of directing a touring ballet troupe. Always interested in writing, he wrote a short play in high school that was actually performed, leading to a hiatus of nearly 40 years before he returned to writing as a reviewer. Writing for Cabaret Scenes has kept him in touch with world filled with brilliance.