On Aug. 21, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles presented “Sure on this Shining Night,” an evening of classical and contemporary music from Giuseppe Verdi to Morten Lauridsen to Lady Gaga. Joining the massive group was a new entity, the GMCLA Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Choir, and with it powerhouse young voices from nearby high schools and colleges. While a few songs in English smacked of American camp (not including, of course, Stephen Sondheim’s “There Won’t Be Trumpets”), the majority of the evening was expressive, innovative, and at times utterly moving.
The first act of the evening featured a range of interesting works, dip though they occasionally did into the aforementioned camp. Several opera pieces featured excellent soloists like baritone John Musselman and the engaging, exuberant tenor DJ Pick. The opportunity for gesture and expression allowed a greater range for the performative singers. The evening’s conductor, Dominic Gregorio, was finishing his tenure with the group gracefully, and his enthusiasm for the operatic numbers was especially enjoyable.
After a short intermission, a world-premiere commissioned work brought the choir together with electronica musician John Tejada. “The End of It All” was part house music, part movie chorus, and, though musically somewhat infantile, fascinating. The interactions between live, organic sound and hyper-produced beats and tones synthesized, at its best, a uniquely pleasing listening experience.
“Baba Yetu,” which introduced the GSA Youth Choir, struck me as odd, but this may be because the tune is used in (if not from?) turn-based computer game Civilization IV. The “Dance With Me Medley,” with Madonna and Gaga and a great deal of musical mash-up and soul bearing, brought out the best of the smaller ensemble and brought the audience to its feet. A brief solo from Pasadena City College student Cristie Wilson made the otherwise insufferable “Lean on Me” utterly pleasing — encore for Wilson, if you please?
A semi-costumed history lesson on Harvey Milk did get off on the right foot with the aforementioned and heart-wrenching Sondheim number. That said, it otherwise felt somewhat clumsily integrated to the singers’ purpose, an obstructive framework for otherwise skillfully chosen songs like “There Won’t Be Trumpets” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” (Barring these details, the Harvey Milk Schools Project is well worth looking into; see below.)
Ironically, the evening’s second-to-last number — one that had as much potential as “Lean on Me” to be made entirely of cheese — was “True Colors,” the Lauper pop-tune from pop songsters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. The combined choirs — a veritable plethora of ages, aesthetics, and all other visible indicators of individuality — fully embodied the truth that a group of people with a common belief can demonstrate deepest humanity by cooperating in song. This reviewer did a fair amount of tear drying.
Whether ending the evening with Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” was total overkill is debatable; there was also a short encore piece. The truly powerful moments of the evening stood in the unity of the performers, the enthusiasm of the group, and the articulate, happy voice of its executive director, the praiseworthy Hywel W. Sims. The group is entering its 32nd season, and while there will be a handing-off of the baton, the GMCLA’s capacity for meaningful entertainment is promising.
Notable performances (apart from Pick and Wilson) were ASL Interpreter Jon Maher, USC student Marisa Leigh Esposito, John Tejada, and John Tejada’s intuitive music technology.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles will be performing a holiday concert Dec. 18 and 19 in Glendale, as well as two more concerts in the “Power of 3” season. More information on this and the anti-bullying Harvey Milk Schools Foundation can be found at www.gmcla.org.