By Dale King
The final evening of this year’s Festival of the Arts Boca at the Mizner Park Amphitheater in Boca Raton on March 8 was damn cold, with a biting wind that made ambient temperatures in the 60s feel even frostier.
Still, the not-too-comfortable folding chairs on the amphitheater lawn were nearly filled, thanks, in large part, to the appearance of Postmodern Jukebox, an ensemble of genre-bending singers and musicians known for taking songs originally done in one style and presenting them in a totally different way.
Case in point: Check YouTube and you’ll find Postmodern Jukebox presenting the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” the way the Andrews Sisters would do it. Or Britney Spears’ “Oops, I Did It Again” in the style of a breathy Marilyn Monroe tune. Or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as a 1930s jazz piece, complete with Cab Calloway “Hi-di-hi-di-hi-di-hi” phrasing.
The folks huddled at the amphitheater got a taste of the reworked “Thriller” piece as the opening number of Postmodern Jukebox’s post-intermission performance. Michael Cunio (who introduced himself as “Coolio”) did the “Thriller” vocal honors and immediately notched the audience’s attention.
The second set seemed to enliven the gallery a shade more than the first set, possibly because it focused on more recognizable songs that fit the audience groove.
Known widely as PMJ, the jazz and soul-fueled troupe is a rotating musical collective founded by arranger and pianist Scott Bradlee in 2011, when he began shooting videos with friends from college in his basement apartment in Astoria, Queens.
“PMJ is known for reworking popular modern music into different vintage genres, especially early 20th century forms such as swing and jazz,” said a note in the festival program.
In less than a decade, PMJ has amassed more than 1.2 billion YouTube views and 4 million subscribers. When Cunio asked the audience how many had seen the group before or were fans, at least half applauded.
The gallery must have had a warm spot in their heart for the on-stage group as few of them, if any, skipped away during intermission.
Since debuting on real stages and in cyber space, Postmodern Jukebox has featured 70 different performers and have toured six continents.
Newcomers to PMJ may not have understood what they were going to see. Cunio, acting both as MC and singer, swooned his opening greetings to Boca Raton, noting that the ladies in the audience were “smart and sexy.”
PMJ brought some fine lady vocalists, including Tia Simone, a soulful dynamo who hit some high notes that shook the stage lighting. She, Hannah Gill and Brielle Von Hugel all walked to their assigned spots in a variety of different, elegant costumes, some minimal, but still modest. Gill and Von Hugel delivered smooth vocals with flair and panache.
Band members mainly held to vintage outfits from the early 20th century as they let the gallery know that the energy of the Roaring 20s was back, 2020 style.
The audience largely chilled through the early songs, including Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble,” given a bouncy beat by Cunio, Simone and Gill.
But when 18-year-old tap dancer Jabu Graybeal performed “The Tap Awakens” on the far side of the stage, his clickety-clack steps blended with the bass beat provided by Adam Kubota. Suddenly, Kubota cut to a solo that sounded a lot like the theme from “Star Wars.” Guitarist Chisnall took it over and strummed out “The Imperial March.”
The audience got the message and started to wildly applaud the players and singers.
Band members occasionally got close to the folks in the colonnade. Cunio accompanied Chisnall as he played his guitar while walking down the main aisle to slap hands with the folks. Chloe Feoranzo showed her dual abilities, vocalizing and playing the woodwinds. She performed a solo on the clarinet that had the audience recalling the likes of Acker Bilk.
As the show truly got down in the more-intense second half, PMJ twisted a couple of tunes with remarkable agility and ability. Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” was an up-tempo success for Cunio along with Gill, Simone and Von Hugel.
The Christina Aguilera tune, “Genie in a Bottle,” got a full workout from Von Hugel as a solo that opened with a Ventures-style guitar riff. Cunio and the women returned with a top-notch version of another Taylor Swift song, “Shake It Off.”
Postmodern Jukebox closed out with an encore tracing the evolution of the Friends TV theme, “I’ll Be There for You.”
Editor’s note: The posting of this review was delayed by technical problems.