At the University, some things – like cheeky humor and eight-part harmony – just never get old.
Saturday night at Hill Auditorium celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friars, an all-male, a cappella octet. Named for a turn-of-the-century University group dedicated to drinking and singing, the Friars still recruit some of the funniest and most talented members of the Men’s Glee Club for the troupe each year. The sesquicentennial welcomed a remarkable 135 of 195 living Friar alumni, as well as a variety of musical styles, from ragtime to Motown to pop.
University President Mary Sue Coleman opened the show, joking about the Friars’ nickname for her: baby chief.
“But when you have eight young men in tuxedoes, I’m not going to complain,” she said.
Grouped together by eras (for example, 1967 through 1973), the former Friars came out in tuxedoes, sport coats, sweaters and blazers. Ordered chronologically, each group performed two songs. The ’77-’81 group took the stage in Hawaiian shirts and straw hats, singing “The Banana Boat Song” and throwing bananas into the audience.
Groups covered George Gershwin, TV theme songs and reworked Billy Joel tunes. Not everyone caught the line about “hooking up in the (Graduate library) stacks” in “Northface Girl,” but the crowd loved the ’73-’77 group’s take on “Operator,” whose tenor soloist leads with fiery, blue-eyed gospel.
It was obvious that each group spent a significant amount of time arranging their performances, not to mention their bursts of choreographed dance moves.
Five of the six living members of the original double-quartet were present; they earned a standing ovation as they stepped from the eaves to join the current 2005-2006 Friars for their segment of the concert.
“There’s the camaraderie (from the ’50s to the ’00s) and you can tell the Friars were very important to every age group in their college years,” said Ann Arbor resident Karen Bamsey, who attended Saturday’s show.
Current Friars started the concert with the first two songs the original Friars performed. The old-and-new combination fittingly closed the small group performances. Afterward, the finale featured all 135 prior and current Friars. “(It was) kind of a passing of the torch,” said Joe Zande, current Friar and operations manager.
The Friars 50th Reunion Concert
At Hill Auditorium