Fans of Stevie Wonder will find much to enjoy about Signed, Sealed, Delivered: A Stevie Wonder Experience with John-Mark McGaha presented by Artists Lounge Live at Mercury Theater Chicago. As a person who used to bike around town after school in the 1970s listening to “Sir Duke” and other smash Stevie singles on a transistor radio dangling from my wrist by a plastic strap, I count myself among the faithful. So I was bobbing my head and clapping my hands to the beat during the opening night performance Feb. 23.
McGaha has a strong voice and he sounds a lot like Stevie as he works his way through Wonder’s impressive catalog of hits. The band, which includes a small horn section, two fine backup singers, a keyboardist, a bass player and a drummer, with McGaha himself playing piano and guitar, is rock solid. And everyone onstage, especially McGaha, displays an amiable demeanor and a desire to entertain.
If I sound at all hesitant, like there might be a “but…” coming, well, it’s not so much of a complaint as it is a reviewer’s duty to explain the full lay of the land here. Look back up to the name of the show. The “with John-Mark McGaha” is indeed part of the official title, and the reason for that soon becomes clear.
For every compelling, surprising and moving anecdote about Stevie Wonder, we get one, and sometimes a few, about Mark McGaha. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it is an odd thing. Because McGaha is a lot of things–charming, talented, funny, and quite good company, all told–but the one thing he is not is famous enough to draw an audience aiming to get to know him better.
Reader, I decided to go with it, and you know what? It was fine. I now know where McGaha comes from, what his father was like, how he was called to become a preacher, how he met and courted the woman who became his wife by taking her to breakfast at IHOP, how they had their five children, including the one who arrived early on their living-room floor, and quite a bit more. The stories are amusing and relatable. They’re the kind of feel-good stories an accomplished preacher will share with the flock during Sunday service. And we were in attendance at the church of Stevie, after all. So no harm, no foul. Just come to this show prepared to get to know both people in the show’s title.
There were times when I wished for more back-to-back numbers rather than the heavy reliance on a song-anecdote-song structure, but the segues were entertaining. And the show runs two hours with an intermission for reasons that likely have more to do with selling drinks than an artistic need to stretch beyond a tight 75-90 uninterrupted minutes. But these are minor quibbles. I had a genuinely good time at the show. I left humming Stevie’s wonderful music. And I think anyone looking to entertain a family or a Stevie-loving date would enjoy this good-hearted, well-performed night out.
And who knows? Maybe someday soon we’ll be able to get tickets to see A John-Mark McGaha Experience with Stevie Wonder. Wouldn’t that be something?
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: A Stevie Wonder Experience with John-Mark McGaha runs through March 12 at Mercury Theater Chicago.
Photo by Ryan Bennett Photography