Broadway talent, exhilarating energy, powerhouse performances, and enthusiastic cheers filled the house at 54 Below with the spectacular one-night-only world premiere of The Girl Band Project, an all-new act created and produced by Travis Nesbitt, founder and leader of the award-winning all-male tribute group The Boy Band Project, to give equal time to girl power through The GBP‘s contemporary covers of the greatest hits and sizzling moves of the most popular all-female chart-toppers of the 1990s. You go, girls! For those who don’t remember, that’s an expression that originated in the ’90s, and perfectly suits the mood of this electrifying trio.
And, girl, did they go, after a surprise appearance by rotating members of The BBP (last night featuring Jesse Corbin, Sam Harvey, Chris Messina, and Nic Metcalf), who jokingly took to the stage in women’s wigs, claiming to be The GBP, then removed them, warmed up the audience, and transported us to the last decade of the 20th century with one of their crowd favorites, a steamy hot delivery of Backstreet Boys’ 1999 signature song “I Want It That Way.” (While everyone was there for the public debut of the Girls, whom they introduced, it also left me craving the return of the Boys to 54 Below for a full-length concert of their own – please!).
Dressed in dazzling individualized period-style costumes of sparkling green sequins, see-thru flair-leg pants, and thigh-high boots (Bling!), the fabulous trio of Broadway triple threats – Hayley Podschun (Something Rotten, Chaplin, Anything Goes), Natalie Gallo (Jersey Boys, Mamma Mia), and Michelle West (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical) – burst in full throttle through the audience and opened with a high-energy medley of “Say You Be There” by the Spice Girls, “Damaged” by Danity Kane, and Spice Girls’ “Spice Up Your Life,” which they did, with their spot-on harmonies, masterful solos, smooth transitions, and ebullient gestures, jumps, and dance moves, with dynamic choreography by Katie Laduca that captured the times, the sometimes flirtatious, sometimes snarky, spirit of the songs, and the ever-growing empowerment of women.
The group then shifted to a more down-tempo medley of “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child and “No Scrubs” by TLC, filled with passion and feminist commitment. It was followed in the well-curated set list by Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On,” with flawless three-part harmony, to which the audience happily clapped along; a seated rendition of “Emotions” – written by Barry and Robin Gibb, first recorded by Australian singer Samantha Sang in 1978, released by the Bee Gees in 1994, and covered by Destiny’s Child in 2001 – that was aptly brimming with feeling; a mash-up of Pussycat Dolls’ “Hush Hush” and “Dontcha,” with a few lines of Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 disco anthem of personal strength “I Will Survive” thrown into the mix, accentuated by self-confident hair flips and attitude.
Interspersed throughout the show were some bits of “girl talk” that emphasized being there for your girlfriends, a funny tongue-in-cheek segment of audience participation, in which a man was brought up on stage, seated, sung to, and surrounded by Hayley (who then rewarded his wife, not him, with a gift), and an honest admission that there would be no encore, ending with “Black Magic” by Little Mix – a consummately synchronized upbeat performance that closed the immensely entertaining and magical evening with this phenomenal group. It was, in the words of the era, all that and a bag of chips!
If you missed the stellar debut of The Girl Band Project, be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming dates, of which I expect there will be many, judging by the quality of the show and the reception it received. You go, girls!
Running Time: Approximately 45 minutes, without intermission.
The Girl Band Project played Thursday, January 26, 2023, 7 pm, at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, cellar, NYC. The one-night-only performance was also livestreamed in real time and is not available on demand.