Senior Andrew Polec energetically singing during “The Mean Ramblers” this past Saturday in Strong. Photo by Drue Sokol

It’s always a good sign when a show is so unexpectedly sold out that it runs out of programs, and is so highly anticipated that, even an entire half hour prior to the show, the line is wrapped all the way from the doors of Strong Auditorium to beyond the George Eastman statue. “The Mean Ramblers” on Saturday, April 9 was such a show.

Once inside Strong Auditorium, the loyalty and excitement of the fans was easily palpable -— the auditorium was a small-scale version of what I imagine Shea Stadium would have looked like when The Beatles performed, had I been alive to witness that.

The auditorium was so packed that many people were leaning up against the back walls and seated on the steps in the balcony, and there were  signs of appreciation being waved around. A number of Rambler alumni bore large letters taped to sticks that could either spell “Paul,” for senior Paul Alperin or “A Po,” for senior Andrew Polec, depending on their arrangement.

“There is no better feeling in the world than to see friends, family and alumni all giving up their Saturday nights to see us perform,”
junior Jared Sureksy said.  “They always make us smile!”

Now, I would be lying if I didn’t say that Students’ Association president-elect and junior Bradley Halpern’s audacious opening rap was one of the best and least expected parts of the show, and certainly the greatest way possible that I could think for the show to begin.

After this, however, “The Mean Ramblers” took a thankfully short-lived turn for the worse, which I’m going to chalk up to opening nerves. The group’s starting number, “E.T.” by Katy Perry, came across as a bit thrown together, as each Rambler jumped out from backstage and hit a slew of different notes that did not mesh together well.

This was followed by a guest a cappella group, the NYU Mixtapes, who, despite seeming quite excited to be guest appearing, just didn’t live up to the stage presence we knew was soon to come from the Ramblers, though I did appreciate their level of informality on stage and their creative Rihanna mash-up. After these two consecutive setbacks, however, the show immediately picked up and was absolutely spectacular and full of energy and passion from start to finish.

The group even tactfully overcame a number of technical difficulties that could have disrupted the flow of the performance, but were instead taken as opportunities for the Ramblers to make jokes to the audience, giving the show a more relaxed vibe.

“No performance of any kind ever happens flawlessly,” KEY student Mike Hanley said. “The great thing about the Ramblers is the group’s ability to respond and adapt to changes, and I think this show was no exception. I was glad to see the group able to interact with the audience during these ‘breaks.’ It helped to create the casual and intimate atmosphere with the audience that we strive for.”

One of the most moving and well-done pieces of the night was the Rambler-Louvre collaboration. The a cappella group asked Louvre choreographer and sophomore Sarah Canny to design a dance that could be performed as the Ramblers simultaneously sang “Jar of Hearts” by Christina Perri. The combination of graceful dancing backed by live, mournful singing was beautiful, to say the least, and the audience paused for longer than usual at the end before clapping, presumably because we were all so taken with the performance.

After this, the Ramblers announced that in February they won an award for Outstanding Choreography in the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Quarterfinal of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Canny also did the choreography for this number, and they presented her with an award on stage. The award was for her choreography of “I Want You Back” by

‘N Sync, which they then proceeded to perform, leaving no questions as to why they won an award for it.

In my experience with Ramblers shows, there isn’t usually extensive choreography involved, but following “I Want You Back” was another piece, “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5, where they did much more than just excitedly jump about the stage.

This piece ended with the words “Is there anyone out there? ‘Cause it’s getting harder, and harder to breathe” echoing across the room, as each Rambler fell to the ground, leaving only Suresky, the soloist, standing in a single spotlight.

The show -— the last one for a number of Ramblers — paid tribute to these a cappella veterans by giving each of them designated “senior songs” sprinkled throughout the show, despite that many of them played the part of soloist at various other moments that night.

Before these songs, the other members introduced the soloist with kind parting words and memories of what that member had contributed to the group over the years. These senior songs were “What’s Left of Me” by Nick Lachey, “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” and “Hey Jude” by The Beatles and “We All Need Saving” by Jon McLaughlin, with Hanley, Alperin. Polec and junior Neal Burns as soloists, respectively. Each of these pieces was remarkable, touched on a completely different emotion and gave me goosebumps.

Burns’ and Hanley’s pieces each fed on some of the typical feelings associated with the end of an era, as “We All Need Saving” commences with “come on, come on, you’ve got to move on,” and “What’s Left of Me” opens with the words, “Watch my life pass me by.” In contrast, Alperin’s senior piece was incorporated into one of the most inventive parts of the evening — an ongoing slew of Beatles songs, including “Come Together,” “Because” and Alperin’s solo “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight” that each changed soloist yet seemed to run into one another, mimicking the style of “Abbey Road” itself, which functions essentially as one long song.

Pulling from a different Beatles era, Polec’s senior piece was done in typical “A Po” style, and included so much energy and enthusiasm that at one point he even knocked over some lights that were positioned at the front of the stage. His piece was responsible for getting the entire audience up off its feet, standing, screaming and clapping — this was the most energy the audience exhibited throughout the show.

“I was extremely happy with ‘Mean Ramblers,’” Hanley said about how this show, as his last, stacked up against past shows. “I had an incredible time singing and performing with the group and I thought the audience was incredibly supportive. I can’t remember a show when I felt more connected with all the other Ramblers and with the audience.””

For the most part, the group performed pieces that hadn’t been done at their previous shows, but even the repeat songs like “Brown Eyed Blues” by Adrian Hood, “Fuck You” by Cee Lo Green and “Woods” by Bon Iver — the latter of which is one of the most poignant, spine-tingling numbers in their repertoire — held their own during this night. Freshman Greg Corrado’s solo in “Brown Eyed Blues,” was especially one of the most flawless performances in the program.

“The strongest aspect of this show can be put into one word: energy,” Burns said. “The energy level of the group was at a point I have only seen a few times. It’s a wonderful flywheel effect: Our group feeds off of the energy of the crowd, who in turn feeds off of the energy of the group. It is truly an amazing feeling.”

Sklar is a member of the class of 2014.

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