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  • Angela Allyn

Men Friends at the Apollo Theater

Updated: Apr 9

Sociologically, Irish pub culture is a thing of its own: community hall, watering hole, diner, neighborhood music venue, in some tiny towns it’s the post office and mini mart too. When I took my family to Ireland shortly after my toddler was diagnosed with celiac disease, it was the one place I could reliably get him a safe gluten free meal: they really take care of their people in a pub, and have for centuries.  It is tangentially related to the Chicago neighborhood bar in a working class zip code, but that culture is usually a lot more about drinking because  its all grownups in a bar.  Pubs are about a pint,about who you are and who your people are,  but they are also about the culture of “mates” and community.  And so it is that  Apollo Theater Chicago brings A Choir of Man and a working on stage pub to Chicago with a rousing experience about conviviality, male bonding and friendship, and the place pub life has held in processing life for generations of men.   It’s also a tour de force demonstration of group harmonies and fabulous dance numbers: movement director Freddie Huddleston manages to make table dancing drinking songs worthy of Broadway, all the more exhilarating in the intimate confines of the Apollo.  And there’s a drumming bit with a mop, and bar stools that is sheer genius. 

The show started in the artistic Shark Tank that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and it has gone on to performances around the world– it is right to finally get to Chicago which has its own pub traditions and deep Irish diaspora cultural heritage. It is a decidedly male show (with a heavily female audience!), and I have to say that witnessing an ensemble of men sing Adele’s iconic Hello was mind shifting. The men all have monikers and David Shute as the Romantic sure hit that one out of the park. I was wowed by the Handyman, George Knapper’s tap dancing in 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover: George also plays a mean horn. All of the men play something in addition to golden vocals: accordion, box drum, bodhran,piano and there is a talented Chicago sourced quartet on stage with Rafe Bradford on bass, Seth Pae on viola, fiddle and keys, Scott Simon on drums and Kelan M. Smith on guitar, banjo and mandolin. Most of the ensemble hails from across the pond, but Chicagoan R.J. Griffith The Hard Man brought it home to our city with his rendition of You’re The Voice. 

The songs selected for this 90 minute show are not the typical jukebox collection meant to tell a story, more it is a distinctly personal and eclectic selection of hits that are deeply meaningful to men of a certain time and place and serve to deck out a landscape of emotion and connection for particular men. Creators Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay tell us so much about themselves with their song selections. 

Do women go to pubs? Yes, and several audience participation moments draw women on to the stage. My own favorite area pub is owned by a woman and she’s usually behind the taps pulling pints. But this show is a highly polished entertaining dip into the idea of men connecting and creating a male only community that is tender and rowdy.  The show never goes to the dark side of drinking culture or even acknowledges the toxic masculinity that can grow from a male only community: it keeps to the light and the hope for better and best selves.

And the music is gorgeous: the arrangements by Jack Blume will uplift and energize you. As a cover band this ensemble is second to none!  The encore will make you cry. No matter your gender this evening will find a place in your heart so join this party and bring a mate. You may find yourself in this pub more than once this spring.  

The Choir of Man is playing Tuesdays through Sundays until May 26th at the Apollo Theatre, 2550 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. For tickets and information go to

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