The Orion

Ukulele group brings music, comedy to Laxson

The+Wellington+International+Ukulele+Orchestra+pose+for+a+silly%2C+fun+photo.+Photo+Courtesy+of+Chico+Performances
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra pose for a silly, fun photo. Photo Courtesy of Chico Performances

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra pose for a silly, fun photo. Photo Courtesy of Chico Performances

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra pose for a silly, fun photo. Photo Courtesy of Chico Performances


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The number one rule of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra is, “If you know the words, sing along! If you don’t know the words, sing along!” This rule and the attitude it brings followed the performers onstage for a loud, fun-filled show at Laxson Auditorium on Sunday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Hailing from Wellington, located on the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, the orchestra is a rotating group of officially twelve, currently fourteen and sometimes fifteen ukulele players that have toured New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Japan and China.

This winter is their second tour of the United States, their first on the West Coast. Sunday’s show consisted of eight artists: Age Pryor, Francis Salole, Bek Coogan, Andy Morley-Hall, Deanne Krieg, Stephen Jessup, Megan Hosking and the lone Australian, Hal Strewe.

Shows consist of outlandish costumes, a variety of unconventional instruments and mini comedy routines in between (and sometimes during) covers of pop songs, which are usually performed by one member of the group with the rest serving as background or supporting vocals. Perhaps the best example of the band’s silliness and roll-with-it attitude is the story of how their name came to be.

“The name definitely started as a joke and so it’s one of those things where you start as a bit of a joke name,” Coogan said. “And then you’re [like], ‘Oh my god’….it ends up sticking.”

According to Coogan, having a dozen or so artists onstage at the same time leads to big sound and cool visual impacts. Each member has their own loud personality that they let loose during a performance, eliciting laughter and applause from the audience. Additionally, Coogan said, all the artists are at different skill levels; some are good for simple strumming, while others are able to handle much more difficult and skilled arrangements. Put them all together and you get a great and memorable performance.

Songs from Sunday’s performance ranged from older numbers like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” to more recent songs like Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time,” Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River” and Lorde’s “Team.”

After the intermission (referred to as “half time”), the “second half” began with a performance by the PUKES (Parkview Ukes of Parkview Elementary) with ukuleles donated by the orchestra.

Following their last bow after a rendition of OutKast’s “Hey Ya,” the applause was so loud and prolonged that they came out for an encore performance of “It’s a Heartache.” Morley-Hall entertained the audience by avoiding the spotlight all around the stage and into the first row while continuing to belt out Bonnie Tyler’s hit.

Despite some audiences not getting what they were doing onstage, like one show on their last American tour where they were billed as the “mystery gig,” Coogan asserts that most audiences are very receptive and even like to join in on the fun.

“It’s a real singing instrument,” said Coogan, in response to why the ukulele is the best. “It encourages people to sing…and singing makes people feel good.”

It’s fitting then that the mantra of this band featuring an instrument so conducive to song and community is to sing, whether you know the words or not.

Jesse De Mercurio can be reached at [email protected] or @Jesse_Elena on Twitter.

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Ukulele group brings music, comedy to Laxson