Denis Grindel (The Choir of Man) on the brilliant 9-man show
Tue. March 12, 2019 by Matt Inawat
I like that this show redefines that there's no typical type of what a guy should be or what he shouldn't be, and that's been amazing.
Across the globe, it's been called the “ultimate-feel good show” and THE CHOIR OF MAN is a party, concert and pint-filled good time set in a real working pub (on stage) that combines hair-raising harmonies, high-energy dance, and live percussion with foot-stomping choreography.
And what caught our hearts (and eyes) was the multi-talented cast of nine handsome men who sing everything from pub tunes to pop, folk, Broadway and classic rock. Pair that with some great dancing, stomping, and a unique in-theater pub crawl experience for the best 90-minutes ever!
The show celebrates music that has wide appeal including songs by Adele, Queen, Paul Simon, Katy Perry, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. The cast features world-class tap dancers, acrobats, singers, instrumentalists and poets, ensuring that there is something for everyone in this joyous and uplifting show for all ages.
LGBT cast member Denis Grindel gave GoPride the inside access on the show and tour and shared some personal insights with us.
Grindel hails from Donegal in the North West of Ireland. Having initially studied law and business at University College of Dublin, he then pursued a Masters in Theatre from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London. Some of his theatre credits include Jimmy Rabbitte in The Commitments (West End, Original Cast); Lead Vocalist in Rhythm of the Dance (European Tour) Michael Collins in Collins in London (Irish London Centre); Laertes in Hamlet (Principal Theatre Company); Spring Awakening (Helix, Dublin) Rent (Irish Tour).
MI: (Matt Inawat) So you're going to be in Chicago all week for The Choir of Man. Are you excited?
DG: (Denis Grindel) Definitely! There are three Irish guys in the cast so we're all buzzing. Most of the tour so far has been just one stop nights or two at the most so getting to spend a full week in Chicago is great. I'm really excited.
MI: The show looks completely brilliant. The cast performs some great numbers from Adele, Queen, Katy Perry. I wish that we had a pub - just like in the show - where anyone could just walk in and start belting out some great tunes while the whole bar joins in!
DG: Well we like to say that it's like the best pop gig you've ever been to. It's nine guys singing in close harmony covering songs by Adele, Queen, Paul Simon... songs from every decade and different genres so there's something for everybody - but with our Choir of Man twist on it.
It's like a really interactive show. We pull people up on stage. We have them sing and dance. Some of the guys serenade some lucky ladies - or men too - and we invite the audience to come on stage to the set that's a working pub. So we invite them onstage for the pre-show for the first 15 minutes, come and join us for a free pint with us.
MI: And it's real beer on stage too, right? (laughter)
DG: It is real beer, yes, absolutely! No Irish man would serve fake beer, come on!
This is our first North American tour, and everybody's just been great. I think it's just a really joy-filled show. People leave really uplifted. People feel like they have gained 90 friends through the show, not to sound corny. But considering we talk to people before the show, we get to know them.
The show itself, most of the cast that are here in America are the original cast and the show was developed around the guys. So we workshopped different songs so that the narrative through the show is archetypes of guys that you'd find in a pub but they're based around us. When we talk in the show, I say 'my name's Denis', which it is, so we're talking about ourselves. All the roles were written around us.
The show celebrates friendship and it celebrates the good points about what it is to be a man and brotherhood without the macho-ness sort of thing. We poke fun at that and we challenge it.
MI: It's pretty awesome and quite unique also. You don't get that type of audience-to-performer connection in most stage plays.
DG: Yeah, it is! I think our play audiences are enjoying it. It's not as formal as a usual theater show.
I think sometimes we'll get 'are you a boy band' because we are ourselves onstage, so the line between it being a traditional theater show and just being sort of a group of guys having a gig together onstage and attracting an audience, it is a bit of a fine line.
MI: So how long have you been on tour, and what drew you to the project?
DG: I've been with the company just about a year now. The show itself has been going for just about two years. It started about two years ago at Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We've been touring the States since September.
Before that we did three months onboard a cruise ship that went from New York to Bermuda every week with Norwegian Cruise Lines, so that was a good set up for American audiences, because a lot of people that have seen us on the ships have come back again for a second or third visit. I've worked in theater for six years in the industry, mainly theater stuff, and it's rare when you do your project and you have people coming back multiple times to see the same show. You know you've got something good on your hands there if that's the case. So I'm really proud of that.
What drew me to the show is that it definitely is my style of show. It's something that I would love to go and see. It's got heart. It's got comedy. It doesn't take itself too seriously but at the same time it has those moments of truth and just connects with audience.
I feel like I've a really nice part in the show. I'm the narrator, so I get to talk directly to the audience and break down that sort of the fourth wall of theater. My character narrates the show through sort of like, poetry and spoken word. So there's really lovely speeches in there about home, about our fathers and about friendship.
I like that this show redefines that there's no typical type of what a guy should be or what he shouldn't be, and that's been amazing. I've gained eight new straight guy friends that I'm really good friends with. It's been great. It's a really great project.
MI: Do you have a specific, personal favorite scene or a favorite message that resonates within the show?
DG: There's a lovely song called 'Waterloo Sunset' and I get to do a nice poetry bit beforehand talking about home. Maybe it's because I'm traveling the States, but I choke up sometimes. One time I started crying onstage and then I was like 'I'm crying, I'm crying, I'm actually crying I'm not just acting anymore' because it speaks about your family and your parents. I got to add in my own couple of verses to it about what my life was back at home and what home means to me.
I really love those moments where I get to really just look audience members in the eyes and talk to them. It's not something that you get to do in a project that often.
After the show when we get to talk to the audience members, I like people coming up to us and just thanking you and saying they really needed to hear.
Last night a guy who couldn't have been more than 17 shook my hand and said, 'thank you for that moment that you sang "Dance With My Father Again"' about losing a parent. 'I lost my dad a year ago, so I just wanted to thank you... and that's really nice to just think about it and be sad and it was nice to be sad as well'. So it's about those sort of moments when you actually feel like you've connected with somebody. essentially most of the time we're just being ourselves onstage and people are getting to know us and having a good time doing that.
MI: Let's talk about your own personal story. Where's home and how did you get involved in theater?
DG: Home for me is Donegal in the north of Ireland. I've kind of always been performing from a young age. Maybe I just crave the attention but I've always liked it. I played piano from a young age. I sang from a young age.
I actually studied Law at University for four years as a compromise to my parents, I think. They didn't want me to become a performer. So I did that, and then once I graduated from there I went and did a matinee musical theater over in London. I was lucky enough to get cast in a West End show as a lead guy; off the back of that which started my career. It was a really lucky start to my career.
I've always been involved in theater. And this style of show is really, now that I've gotten into it, definitely my niche. I get to show off my skills and play instruments in the show.
All the guys are multi-instrumentalists, lot of them much better than me. It's a great show. It really draws on the strengths of the cast, and everybody ... if there's any hidden skills we have, it's been thrown into the show. I'm playing piano, I'm playing a bit of drums, I'm playing my piano accordion with sort of traditional Irish music, so yeah, we're definitely ready for St. Paddy's week in Chicago with all that! It's a great show and I really love doing it.
MI: Who are some of your acting and performance influences over the years?
DG: Oh gosh. I love Alan Cumming. Just 'cause I'm obsessed with Cabaret and that role of emcee. It's something that I think I've fallen into. Maybe I'm not the best singer in the world and I'm not the best actor in the world, but that element of being able to be that link between the audience and the stage is kind of the role that I've fallen into in shows. And I love that performance of his in Cabaret, it's just iconic to me.
MI: How has being gay/LGBTQ either prepared or impacted your experience in the business?
DG: I feel like it's maybe tied into being LGBT; that you have gone through some sort of element of a struggle. I was bullied a lot as a kid in high school, and I feel like maybe building up that resilience and that sort of strength of character is something that has definitely prepared me for the industry because it is so tough and you do face so much rejection all the time.
I feel like whenever I finally got into the industry it was like "meeting my people." Everybody has this creative and accepting outlook on the world, and I think it's where I needed to be and where I should be.
In terms of being LGBT, obviously there's sometimes there's a little bit of a worry. In the past, I've been sort of advised to be that strong, lead male. "You don't want to come across too effeminate or anything like that," people have said to me. "oh if you're out and proud they might not cast you for a leading man." So I love that the producers of the show have been totally supportive. They champion the fact that I'm a proud LGBT member.
MI: Yeah, the industry just embraces authenticity for the most part. So, with the show having nine guys on stage, will we get to see any cool bromances or anything like that?
DG: (laughter) Definitely. Absolutely, yeah. I don't think I've ever actually fully experienced a bromance until I started doing this show. We joke about it all the time. Johnny, this amazing singer in the show, is my new straight best friend. Yeah, there is definitely bromance in the show.
One of the guys, not to make it heavy, one of the guys had a family tragedy recently and it hit us all so hard. He came back from visiting his family and our last number in the show we're all in tears, hugging each other at the end of the show. At the end our boss is like 'okay, you have to stop hugging at the end of the show, you have to just go out and take your bow 'cause it looks a bit weird'.
We've been through a lot together, and traveling the States can be intense. We're all sleeping on a tour bus and going from state to state, and packing up every night and traveling. It really has bonded us all together. That's the message of the show.
When I went in to join the group, I was ready to sing my songs and do my pieces. The first thing our creative team and our producers Nic Doodson and Andrew Kay said 'no, just take a seat, come up and pull up a chair beside us and tell us about yourself, and why did you...' ... They wanted to know my recent history or why I left London for a period of time when I was struggling with the industry a wee bit. So they just wanted to get into all that, and now being in the show for a year or so I realize that they do just wanna cast people that they like and people that will get along with the group and that will carry the message of togetherness, which is what our show is about.
MI: Definitely. So is this going to be your first time in Chicago this week?
DG: Yeah, it will. And I have family there that have never seen me perform before. My cousin's are from Chicago.
MI: Oh, that's awesome!
DG: Yeah! I've never been to the States before this tour, so this is all a first time for me. Can't wait.
MI: Any favorite hangouts or restaurants you're just dying to try out while you're in town? Chicago pizza or any of those types of things?
DG: I know very little. The boys are much better than me and they're all putting together a tour guide list of everything that they've looked at online. I don't really think any of us have been to Chicago before. But we're all buzzing. Really excited just for St. Paddy's week to see how you guys celebrate. I feel like Americans celebrate St. Paddy's even more than us Irish do back home.
MI: Wait til you see what Chicago has to offer this week! So we have a couple of super quick, fun personality questions. One word answers work just as well for the next few questions. So name something you can't live without.
DG: Potatoes. (laughter)
MI: What do you miss most when you travel?
DG: What if I said potatoes again? Let me think. My mom!
MI: What's something in your home that would make a stranger think you were gay?
DG: Okay, let me think. There's probably a hundred things. (laughter) Let me think... a Barbara Streisand T-shirt.
MI: What's something in your home that might make a stranger think you were straight?
DG: Ahh ... lack of beauty products. I really don't take care of myself that well in terms of hair gels and moisturizers, things like that.
MI: Sum up your life in a musical title.
DG: God, these are good. Let me think. A musical title. Annie Get Your Gun. (laughter)
MI: Perfect! Denis, thank you so much - we can't wait to see you on stage next week!
DG: Be sure to come on stage and say hello!
THE CHOIR OF MAN plays for a limited one-week engagement at Broadway In Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut) from March 12 through March 17, 2019.
Individual tickets are currently on sale and range in price from $39-$79 with a select number of premium tickets
available. Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-
1710 or emailing GroupSales@BroadwayInChicago.com. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.