In an attempt to live up to the great American legends, No Jackets Required (NJR) put themselves up against the daunting task of performing the classics everyone can sing along to on Friday, Oct. 19, putting themselves in the precarious position of being directly compared to music’s greatest idols. But not to worry, the group would have made them proud.
Upon entering the May Room the audience saw red and blue lights illuminating the walls as a slideshow of the American landscape and well-known album covers moved across a screen behind the stage. These decorations created a sense of a mix between a local coffee shop and a small-scale music festival.
As an opening number, No Jackets Required chose the classic “American Pie” by Don McLean — a complete energizer, led by senior Ben McCormack, that got the crowd on their feet and pumped for the rest of the show.
This opener was met with much enthusiasm as the performance transitioned to its folk segment. Standouts in this part of the show included senior Ben McCormack and Take Five Scholar Ethan Lobenstine effectively capturing the beauty of the harmonies in Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” and a gripping combination of male and female voices stunningly encapsulated in senior Galen Dole, sophomore Michelle Markowitz and Lobenstine’s performance of Stephen Still’s “Love the One You’re With.”
Of the 10 classics covered in this segment, including songs from musical titans like Bob Dylan and James Taylor, the audience seemed the most enthusiastic during junior Daniel Gorman, Jr.’s solid rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” with the crowd joyfully singing along and clapping to the lyrics.
Transitioning to the strongest portion of the show, rhythm and blues, NJR demonstrated their high caliber of musical expertise. Amongst the many pieces covered, the breathtaking highlights were undoubtedly Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and Gershwin’s “Summertime.” The booming vocals of sophomore Allison Eberhardt, senior Jamie Wilson and Take Five scholar Caitlin Mack surpassed every level of expectation in these numbers.
Eberhadt, Wilson and Mack easily moved through these technically complex pieces while still grooving to the beat in a way that would have made even Aretha Franklin herself proud. When it seemed as though it would no longer be possible to add even more energy, NJR rolled out a smashing rendition of Tina Turner’s “Rolling On the River — Proud Mary” with senior Sarah Sheppeck, also the creative director of the show, singing lead vocals. NJR encompassed the intensity of the piece, and audience members were likely left in a state of awe at the talent presented, but also pumped up by the energy filling the room.
All this behind them, and approaching the two-hour mark, NJR powered on — now addressing the rock genre. Covering everything from the well-known “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” to less familiar standards, they managed to captivate the audience with loud guitar solos and pumped up lyrics. The show’s grand finale was an upbeat version of the ever-popular “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynard Skynard, which culminated with the entire cast dancing on stage and the audience singing along.
Every piece was accompanied by a full band — including multiple talented guitar players, a drummer, two piano accompanists and an entire row of various instrumentalists, including trumpet players, violinists and saxophonists to just name a few. By using background vocalists as well, the pieces were really carried out to the full extent that they should have been.
The show was an absolute success, largely based on the performer’s abilities to really make the songs their own instead of focusing on replicating the existing pieces. This kind of individual interpretation was possible thanks to the large cast, who were able to focus specifically on a certain sets. This led, without exception, to an infectious amount of energy onstage. The show, for which planning began in July, was based on an NJR member’s proposal. From there, Sheppeck auditioned interested participants in August to carry out her vision as the show’s director.
A show should be deemed a success if it can keep its audience on its feet for a good two-and-a-half hours without ever lagging. NJR managed this difficult feat with constant energy — when entertainers look like they’re having fun, they audience will too. Starting with a folk segment was perfect for setting a tone for the concert before transitioning into the power ballads of the blues.
Ending with pieces more familiar to the audience was effective in assuring that the crowd would hum the melodies all the way back to their dorms. It was easy to be skeptical of claims that NJR was going to cover songs made famous by legends for multiple generations, but the group surpassed all expectations and made this show one to remember.
Caris is a member of the class of 2016.