Eclectic group brings joy to Lyric stage

Friday, March 18, 2016

March 18, 2016
Shelley Koppel
Staff writer

STUART — If you come to the Lyric Theatre March 18 to see the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, you may see someone come across the stage on a unicycle. There’s no way to know in advance if this will happen, because it would be an audience member getting into the spirit of things.

The Orchestra, a group of musicians who emphasize the joyfulness in their music, encourages the audience to share in that joy. Sometimes, it means that they participate. In fact, the group’s number one rule is “If you know the words, sing along. If you don’t know the words, sing along!”

The ensemble began some 10 years ago. Two award-winning New Zealand musicians, Age Pryor and Bret McKenzie, owned a café. Pryor went on a holiday to Fiji.

“I’ve always been a musician and I went to Fiji on holiday and saw the people playing guitars and ukuleles and singing,” Pryor said. “I was struck by how beautiful it sounded and how heartfelt the connection, I went back to New Zealand and told Bret. We missed the quality of making music from the heart. It had become a career, a business.

“I took piano at 7, and what sparked my passion was the Beatl1es at 10 or 11. Hearing the music in Fiji brought back those feelings.

Joyfulness is something we tapped into and still experience and love bringing to our audiences.”

A show has a group of eclectic musicians, flamboyant costumes, theatrical effects, and, as already stated, audience participation.

“It’s a vibrant, joyful concert,” Pryor said. “It’s songs they’ll know or not know but will love. There’s a wide range of genres and eras.”

Music could include everything from Justin Timberlake, Cyndi Lauper, rock and pop classics and traditional South Pacific music.

“Our expectation and hope is that they’ll leave with a big smile on their face because they’ve had a good time,” Pryor said. “You can sit back and enjoy it. We have an informal approach to our concerts and want the audience to feel they’re in a living room amongst friends. There’s dialogue between the audience and the stage. The feeling is relaxed and if they are inspired to sing along, we encourage them.”

The ensemble brings together musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds and that is its strength, Pryor believes.

“It’s a magical group of an eclectic mix of people,” he said. “When it was formed it was one of those synchronistic moments over a few months. It’s an amazing group of people who (each) bring something different. Everyone is equal to everyone else. The fascinating thing is to be part of it and observe the different characters. There’s a lot of humor on stage. They’re all fascinating people.”

This is the group’s second time in the United States. Pryor says they have come a long way from playing for 20 in their café. The 500-seat Lyric sounds perfect to them because the size is just right for the intimate mood they like to create.

What Pryor doesn’t know is what might happen.

“Once people know we’re relaxed about how they react, it’s breath-taking,” he said, “We’ve had people juggling vegetables. The audience mentions that we have joy and it transfers to the audience. People feel they can let their hair down.”

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra comes to the Lyric Theatre, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart, March 18 at 6 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $45.

Call the box office at (772) 286-7827 or visit the website