As producers and promoters go, Jeff Parry has a certain refreshing honesty. Not a bad attribute when you are producing something called "The Australian Bee Gees Show," replete with the tag line, "The Resemblance is Unbelievable."
"Chicago will be our first stop," said Parry, the CEO of Annerin Productions, in a highly entertaining telephone interview last week. "I wish we were starting in Poughkeepsie. But they needed to fill a slot in Chicago. Really, it's a work in progress."
But the resemblance is unbelievable, right? "I wouldn't say they totally nail it yet." Wow. Points for honesty.
The work in question, as the title might suggest, involves the vaunted oeuvre of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, brothers known for their distinctive three-part vocal harmonies (located painfully close together on the scale). And although their catalog now is often viewed through the same semi-condescending prism as that of many artists who were at their peak during the disco era, they came up with (wrote and performed) a formidable array of monster global hits, including "Night Fever," "Tragedy," "Too Much Heaven" and "How Deep is Your Love" — the last being the soundtrack behind much teenage fumbling by your humble correspondent, who certainly did not get too much heaven. At any point.
And the Australian part? It is a nod to the Australian heritage of the Gees (although the brothers actually were Brits by birth). And it also refers to the various Aussie guys (and their various subs) who perform this show, whom the wily Parry discovered out in the wild world of touring tribute acts. "They had been playing cruise ships and casinos," Parry said.
More recently, the guys, who've been at this for years, have been playing at the low-rent Excalibur Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
"Basically, they have been performing in a restaurant," Parry said, dissuading any comparison between Sin City and what audiences will be seeing at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago. "They had about five lights."
At this point in our conversation, I began to see that the likable Parry is something of an expert in the management of critics' expectations. Actually, Parry is no fool when it comes to packaging these shows. He previously produced "Rain," the show that combined a Beatles tribute band with archival video footage and that went all the way to Broadway. I had my issues with the multimedia veracity of "Rain" (which now is the United Kingdom under the new name "Let It Be"), but there was no questioning the integrity of the musical arrangements, nor the good times being enjoyed all around.
Parry well understands the importance of re-creating the precise sound that ticket buyers know and love.
"If the music does not stand up," he said. "You're dead in the water."
Hopefully, "The Australian Bee Gees Show" will be stayin' alive.
In essence, the show that Parry is developing in Chicago is a version of "Rain" (video and all), except instead of The Beatles, you've got the life and times of the Bee Gees. Hmm. Not quite the same thing, perchance?
"Right," said Parry, chuckling at the very notion of The Bees Gees carrying the same social import and political gravitas as the Fab Four. But his mind quickly moved to more practical matters. "With The Beatles," he said, "we could just start off with 'She Loves You' and then it was bang, bang, bang. The early Bee Gees stuff was all ballads. So we're going to have to structure it differently."
Yep, they still are writing the show, which opens next week. But they know the climactic moment.
"Their last show together was at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas," Parry said. "So that is going to be our Shea Stadium."
Parry said that Barry Gibb has given his guys a kind of discreet, down-under "nod," although tribute shows like this always walk a fine line when it comes to rights issues. It's one thing to license the music but another to deal with the actual personas — so, in practice, a producer needs the original act to consider the tribute show to have enough artistic integrity that it does not annoy them. That, apparently, is the case here.
"Really, it's a concert first and foremost," Parry said, "with cool footage and great music. I think there are 40 numbers in our show and everything is played live. And everybody dances."
"The Australian Bee Gees Show" will run Tuesday to Aug. 4 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.; tickets are $35¿$80 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com