Houston Music

Music Box Theatre Sings the Number Ones

(L-R) Cay Taylor, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Rebekah Dahl, Kristina SUllivan
(L-R) Cay Taylor, Brad Scarborough, Luke Wrobel, Rebekah Dahl, Kristina SUllivan Photo by Alexander Cross

One of the great pleasures of Music Box Theater's celebrated entertainments is that you never really know what you're going to hear.

You know what you're going to get – superlative interpretive singing from the Fab Five: Rebekah Dahl, Brad Scarborough, Kristina Sullivan, Cay Taylor, Luke Wrobel; delicious orchestrations from the band: Austin Biel (keyboard, guitar), Arthur Gilligan (percussion), Long Le (bass guitar); Mark McCain (lead guitar); improv camaraderie among the singers and band; bar treats, beers and mimosas; an intimate living room-like ambiance; a wispy script to tie the numbers together; an appreciative audience; and two hours of sublime musicianship and sky-high talent. That's all here in their newest program, Number 1 Hits, playing weekends through June 18.

I must admit, I was hoping the five might wrap their voices around "I'll Never Smile Again," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," or "To Each His Own," but MBT's Number Ones are taken from the Billboard Top 100, the industry standard from 1958 onward. There goes, Glenn Miller, Bing Crosby, and the Andrew Sisters. Hello, Elvis, Doobie Brothers, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, John Denver, the Beatles, Meatloaf, and a dozen others. Not a bad playlist, either.

Even though all the songs reached No. 1, I was completely unacquainted with a few of them, especially Michael Jackson's "Rock With You" performed by Dahl; Lisa Loeb's "Stay" by Taylor, accompanying herself on guitar; and Boyz 2 Men's "It's so Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" gloriously sung a cappella by the five. What was I doing in my life when these played on the radio? Well, I know them now, thanks to Music Box, and I can't imagine them sung any better than here.

As is usual practice at MBT, each artist shines in a solo, or they blend seamlessly in stunning quintet, or serve as backup to the others, doo-wopping and dancing in the background. Among the favorite hits: Wrobel's smooth rendition of The Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me," seductively augmented by Biel's muted trumpet; Dahl and Scarborough's winking "I Got You Babe," channeling Sonny and Cher; Scarborough's haunting tenor caressing "Yesterday" on harmonica with wafting piano riffs by Biel; Sullivan's lilting take on the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," Taylor's valentine to Lulu's valentine to Sidney Poitier, "To Sir With Love."

But there's more. Dolly Parton's "Here You Come Again," Streisand and Neil Diamond's "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," a rockin' early Elvis tribute; a triptych of sun songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Stevie Wonder, and John Denver; Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," Pharrell's "Happy," Garth Brooks' "The Dance," Billy Joel's "River of Dreams." Each is its own specialty, each exquisitely performed.

Tying everything together is an offstage oldies tribute to those ubiquitous radio countdown programs with unctuous DJs with their basso voices, male and female, weather and traffic reports, call-ins with requests. Fortunately, they are no jingles. It works well enough, if only to keep us in anticipation for the next song.

If you don't know Music Box – itself rated the No. 1 Thing to Do in Houston on Trip Adviser – now's the perfect time to get acquainted. You, too, may not know all the numbers, but it really doesn't matter. The evening is a wondrous way to hear five great artists at the top of their game (and the band, too.) They could sing Twitter tweets and make them thoroughly delightful and definitive.

Performances are scheduled through June 18 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays at Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. For more information, call 713-522-7722 or visit themusicboxtheater.com. $35 - $48.
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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover