After 10 years and selling 26 million recordings, Il Divo has their act down pat.
The operatic pop group made up of French pop star Sebastien Izambard, Spanish baritone Carlos Marin, American tenor David Miller and Swiss tenor Urs Buhler starts a song big, ends it huge and, in between numbers, flirts with women in the audience.
That was the drill at Thursday’s opening of “Il Divo, A Musical Affair: The Greatest Songs of Broadway Live” at the Marquis Theatre.
The six-concert run coincides with the release of Il Divo’s new album of showtunes. Call it synergy.
And call it a shame that the group discovered a decade ago by music impresario Simon Cowell — one of his artistic babies — often came off disconnected to what they were singing in their Broadway debut. It made for several murky versions of iconic theater songs.
Garish projections during the show’s two hours — and three costume changes — didn’t do much to help.
What they lacked in feeling and interpretative power they made up for in volume on classics like “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Impossible Dream,” “Bring Him Home” and the ever-rousing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which they performed as an encore.
Guest star and “Aida” Tony winner Heather Headley joined the group on “Memory” and “Music of the Night.” She went it alone on “Run to You,” from the Broadway-bound musical “The Bodyguard,” and “Home,” the evening’s high point.
The night’s oddest point was Il Divo covering “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.” It was just tone deaf to have Evita’s passionate solo chopped up like a slab of Buenos Aires beef and performed by four men.
Die-hard Il Divo fans probably won’t mind. But musical theater lovers might shed a tear.
No wonder Il Divo’s Broadway debut is subtitled “A Musical Affair”: That refers less to their concert of show-stoppers than to the steamy relationship between the hunky quartet and their female fans. Not since Sinatra packed the Paramount has there been such an explosion of estrogen on the Great White Way.
Assembled 10 years ago by Simon Cowell in what may well have been a laboratory, the four combine gorgeous singing with a kind of Disney-prince handsomeness that had most of the women in the audience snapping away with their cellphones.
Make no mistake: Il Divo knows the drill. Composed of Urs Bühler (Switzerland), Sébastien Izambard (France), Carlos Marin (Spain) and David Miller (US), they clearly spend a lot of time at the gym, and they look great in a succession of perfectly tailored tuxedos.
They certainly have beautiful voices, which blend together perfectly in intricate vocal arrangements. But for all the gorgeousness of the singing, their heavy-handed style makes everything sound the same. Several songs are performed in Spanish or Italian, but even the English renditions sounded like a foreign language. Each number is delivered with full bombast, rising to inevitable crescendos. You may well feel the urge to smoke a cigarette after.
You don’t need to be a Broadway regular to recognize the songs: “Tonight,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina,” “Memory” and other standards. Granted, it’s a stretch to include “Unchained Melody” from the short-lived musical adaptation of “Ghost.” And “My Way” isn’t really a theater song, even if it was featured in Twyla Tharp’s “Come Fly Away.”
Fortunately, special guest star Heather Headley was there to show what real theater singing is about. Performing several duets with the group as well as a few solos — “Home” from “The Wiz,” and the Whitney Houston song “Run to You” from the musical “The Bodyguard,” in which she starred in London — she gives the evening an emotional depth and vocal dexterity that is otherwise lacking.
The production itself is pure Vegas, with so many starry, outer-space backdrops that you half-expect George Clooney and Sandra Bullock to float by. Director Brian Burke likes to start most numbers the same way — with one of the singers alone onstage, the others eventually wandering on, as if they were just getting back from coffee breaks.
Each man gets a monologue (Malcolm Williamson is credited as “speechwriter”), which are meant to be sincere but mainly seem canned. The cheesiest by far was Spanish baritone Marin, who proclaimed, “To me, singing a great song is like making love,” which was greeted by a thundering chorus of shrieks.
Resistance is futile. Il Divo obviously fills a deep need in its target audience — women of a certain age, who respond with ecstasy. For the men squiring them, there may be a payoff after the curtain drops on this musical aphrodisiac.
The grandiloquent, soupy musical world of the multinational quartet Il Divo conjures a chaste romance-novel fantasy of dashing suitors tearing their hearts off their sleeves to make the ladies at court faint with ecstasy. Pass the smelling salts, please.
The group, which opened a six-night run on Thursday evening at the Marquis Theater, was assembled nine years ago by that demonically clever music-marketing wizard Simon Cowell and has since sold umpteen million albums.
The engagement follows the release of its latest CD, “A Musical Affair” (Syco Music, Columbia), a collection of Broadway standards arranged and sung in the quasi-operatic “international style” of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schönberg.
Il Divo — the American tenor David Miller, the Spanish baritone Carlos Marin, the French pop singer Sebastien Izambard, and the Swiss tenor Urs Bühler — constitutes an astutely selected mixture of operatic and quasi-operatic voices, singing in several languages, which blend seamlessly while maintaining perfect pitch. If nothing else, its performance on Thursday was a feat of vocal and robotic coordination.
As these formally attired gentlemen moved up and down a staircase and grouped and regrouped on several different levels, the concert suggested a solemnly executed drill at a military funeral, with glamorous lighting. In their coordinated marching routines, always moving slowly, they were equal participants in a ritual of musical sanctification.
Vocally, however, Il Divo’s members are not equal. Mr. Miller and Mr. Marin have major operatic voices and carefully cultivated dramatic instincts. The more than adequate singing of Mr. Izambard and Mr. Buhler mostly filled in the texture of four-square vocal arrangements that divided songs into carefully measured slices of musical pie.
A measure of Il Divo’s vocal stamina was the failure of their special guest, Heather Headley, to match its standards. Ms. Headley is not a bad singer, just an ordinary one. After harmonizing with the group, she sang a solo version of “Run to You” from “The Bodyguard,” in which she could barely execute Whitney Houston’s vocal curlicues.
War horse after war horse followed in a concert that began with “Tonight” from “West Side Story” and ended with “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from “Carousel.” Augmenting the theater songs, which included the inevitable “Memory,” “Somewhere” and “The Impossible Dream,” were “Unchained Melody,” “I Will Always Love You” and “My Way.” Melody — stately, clumping, assertive, heavily echoed — ruled.
Five years after Andrew Lloyd Webber appeared as a guest mentor on American Idol, Simon Cowell is returning the favor.
In Il Divo: A Musical Affair (two out of four stars), which began a six-show stint Thursday at Broadway's Marquis Theatre, the "popera" vocal quartet that Cowell manufactured nearly a decade ago promises to take its fans on a journey through what one of its members, the American tenor David Miller, calls the "musicological melting pot" that is musical theater.
It is telling that this vast mosaic is represented here with four compositions by Lloyd Webber, whose ability to fuse rock bombast and pseudo-classical pabulum helped pave the way for both drippy Broadway hits and crossover acts like Il Divo. There are also two songs from a London-based stage adaptation of The Bodyguard, and an ABBA tune from the jukebox musical Mamma Mia! -- yet not a single selection from the calalogs of Cole Porter, Frank Loesser or Kander and Ebb. Or the contemporary pop-savvy Stephen Schwartz, for that matter.
There are soaring ballads by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (Somewhere), Lerner and Loewe (If Ever I Would Leave You) and Rodgers and Hammerstein (Some Enchanted Evening, and an encore of You'll Never Walk Alone). The songs, however sumptuous, are the most obvious choices; and they are presented here drained of all soul and nuance, rather becoming vehicles for relentless melodrama and technical showboating.
"For me, singing a great song is like making love," the unctuous Spanish baritone Carlos Marin tells the audience, during one of four segments in which the individual singers introduce themselves, cracking corny jokes and plugging their new album -- also titled, conveniently, A Musical Affair. "You start softly," Marin stresses. "You never rush."
The performances here -- some incorporating Spanish or Italian lyrics, presumably to enhance their romantic import -- are certainly not hurried; you'd be hard-pressed to detect a rhythmic pulse in any of them. But the volume is seldom subdued, and when it is, you know that these guys are just gearing up to bang you over the head with another loud burst of garish color and vibrato.
Marin's crooning, in particular, suggests a parody of a classic musical-theater (or operatic) leading man; in Don't Cry For Me Argentina, he glowers and rolls his r's like a cartoon villain. The Swiss-born Urs Bühler uses his sweetly bleating tenor with more delicacy on Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables, but is generally overwhelmed by his colleagues.
The group, which also includes token "pop singer" and Frenchman Sébastien Izambard, is joined several times by the R&B singer musical-theater veteran Heather Headley, who also has a few solo numbers and manages to inject a modicum of grace.
Addressing the crowd Thursday night, Headley surmised that a "lot of the ladies out there" were "very jealous" of her proximity to the male stars, who ambled and preened like models in a shaving-cream commercial -- to the delight, it must be added, of various audience members, who acknowledged several tunes with whooping standing ovations.
Marin, predictably, indulged them by expanding on his sensual tastes. His friends, he noted, "always say, 'You are all about food and women.'"
If A Musical Affair were a food, it would be a very heavy cheese. If you crave such stuff -- and many clearly do, whether for sustenance or as kitsch -- dig in.