Last night at the Mayo Performing Arts Center (formerly the Community Theater) in Morristown, I had the good fortune to catch the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Yes, you read that right. If your first thought is of gents and flappers in raccoon coats strumming to Yes, Sir! That's My Baby!, think again. Yet there is a sense in which this is not so very wrong after all: the 1920s ukulele craze was all about light-hearted fun, and so is the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. Musicians and musical critics often take what they do very seriously – nothing wrong with that, but sometimes the pure fun element gets lost. The uke-players had a merry old time of it last night, as did the audience. Moreover, they did so while getting remarkable musical results from instruments “most people regard as toys.”
The whimsically dressed Kiwis came on stage and laid down the rules at the outset of the evening: “Tonight’s first rule is, if you know the words, sing along; the second rule is, if you don’t know the words, sing along.” We knew a lot of them. The eclectic playlist included the Kinks (Sunny Afternoon), Blondie (Pretty Baby), Dolly Parton (Jolene), Britney Spears (Baby One More Time), and the Rolling Stones (Honky Tonk Women), just to scratch the eclectic surface. There was even a Maori chant. WIUO interacted casually with the audience including dancing with the first couple of rows.
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is on the last leg of a US tour that has zigzagged West to East for two months. It works south for 7 more gigs, ending in Fort Lauderdale, FL, on March 20. If one happens to be near you, stop for a listen and – if you’re up for it – maybe even a singalong. The experience won’t be profound, but it will be fun.