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March 13, 2004

Las Vegas Review-Journal

John Stuart isn't actually snapping the publicity photo, but he's orchestrating it. "We need you to put your arm down because you're covering your brother's face," he instructs one of the six singers perched under a tree at his Southern Las Vegas ranch on a sunny Saturday morning. "Don't kill yourself because there's no time for that," he jokes of one of the singer's poses. "There, that's it, that's what I want," he says as the photographer of record snaps the shutter. Stuart has done well for himself by knowing what he wants -- and what people will pay to see -- in Las Vegas showrooms. In 1983 he launched "Legends in Concert," which is still a fixture at the Imperial Palace and in three other resort cities. Now, a year and a month after he resigned from the company that became an entertainment staple, Stuart has decided his future -- or a least a good share of it -- lies in the fate of six fellow Mormons, an a cappella group known as the Knudsen Brothers.

"I call these guys the invasion of `Ovation,' " Stuart says of his new stars for the variety show at the Desert Passage mall. Stuart opened the show with co-producer David Saxe last year, then bought out Saxe's share in January. The Knudsens open the variety show with a 25-minute segment of '50s oldies, then return to close it with a 13-minute encore, squeezing five other acts into the remaining hour between. But headlining "Ovation" is just the beginning, Stuart says, of "a very aggressive plan to move up from here" in his management of the brothers. "I'm basically pulling out all the stops from the years I've been here" to get them "their own show in their own room," he says.

The Knudsens (the "K" is pronounced) certainly have built a foundation to poise for the invasion. They come to Las Vegas with six years of success as Royal Caribbean cruise line entertainers and 10 years on the corporate entertainment circuit. They really are brothers: "We didn't just pick the name because we thought it sounded cool," they tell audiences. And the nomadic family has performed in various combinations since 1975. If you wonder how a family could produce six brothers who all could sing, the answer is there are four other siblings who do not. Comparisons to the Osmonds were inevitable, given that an early version of the family act performed on the "Donny and Marie" TV show in 1978. But the group didn't really take off until it looked beyond the Osmond mold to contemporary pop a cappella groups such as The Nylons and Rockapella.

The brothers are all in their 30s or 40s, within a nine-year age span. They are, in descending order of age: Barry, Kevin, Lynn, Jak, Owen and Curtis. The four oldest first started singing church hymns, "which are usually arranged in four-part harmonies already," Jak notes, with their part-time musician father "putting his own custom touch on it."

The current six did not actually perform all together until 1994. That's when Owen returned to the fold after pursuing other ventures, "and there was nothing for me to sing. We were all too lazy to rearrange the songs," Jak explains. Owen was thus motivated to play around with the idea of being a human beatbox, or "vocal percussionist" as he is formally known. The other brothers quickly realized they were on to something that could fall between past experiments with a drum machine and a traditional band. "The drum machine ran the performance," Jak explains. "When it screws up, it's not real fun. And we liked working with a band, but it got in the way of the harmonies." So Owen went to train with another vocal percussionist, and came back a master. During "Ovation," he demonstrates his abilities to supply not only the basic beat, but the high-hat and snare drum as well. Now, Jak's vocal bassline on top of Owen's drumbeats are so convincing that the Knudsens are introduced with a very "Legends"-like disclaimer, telling the crowd no lip-syncing or backing tracks are used. More

Posted by acapnews at March 13, 2004 7:43 AM

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