This past Saturday I attended both shows of the Windy City gay Men's Chorus Pride Concert, "Summer Lovin'". I loved every minute of each show! For me, there was more than just my enjoyment of the music in the presence of this cohesive and talented group (along with Aria, their Lesbian co-chorus). That's because I was so proud to see Mark in his Chicago musical performance debut!
As a second tenor and one of the taller members of the group, Mark stood in the back row of the risers.(He beamed at me once he found me in the third row, sporting a highly visible orange silk shirt!) Our great friend Jillian came to the first show and cheered louder than anyone there.
Through the rehearsal period that started after his audition last March, I was there to hear his stories about learning the music, the choreography, the personalities of his fellow choir-mates, and his uncertainty about assimilating, feeling he had few opportunities to socialize during the demanding and complicated practices.
Last Friday, at the dress rehearsal, Mark and four of his fellow "newbies", were each presented with a yellow rose as they were serenaded by the veterans in the group. It was a touching show of support. At that point, Mark was "in" and there to stay, and that made the experience that much sweeter.
While I listened to each show, I had a rare sensation of feeling safe, content, as though everything was as it ought to be in our world. The music, and the people making it, made me completely happy.
This diverse group of men delivered a lively first act which combined some show tunes and popular standards. The stage movement during the opening medley from "Grease" was charming, and very deftly done, considering the risers on the intimate stage were very narrow (the little auditorium at the Center on Halsted held about 150 people).
Keeping to a '50's theme, this was followed by a harmony-filled "Under the Boardwalk".
After that nice warm-up for the group as well as the audience, the guys launched into a terrific arrangement of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", complete with flowers, tambourine, and audience interaction. Neither Mark nor I knew until the start of rehearsals that this would be performed, and recalling our unforgettable experience last fall at Broadway's revival of "Hair", this number held special meaning for us.
Aria took the stage and performed a set on their own. Listening to their opening number, a vocal exercise without lyrics, I was intent on seeing the faces of these highly diverse women, and imagining the varying roads each had to travel to finally converge at this spot on this night. Most poignant was a member who was unable to participate in the stage movement, being blind; yet she sang her best, and smiled. A favorite moment occurred in a very sweet number called "Big Dogs, Whiskey and Wild Wild Women", when half of the performers held up their (toy) dogs.
Another favorite was the finale to "Spring Awakening" titled "Song of Purple Summer". The entire group painted a portrait of love and growing up, seasons changing, and a fond looking-back. A gem.
At the end of the first set was a complicated rendition of Queen's "Somebody to Love". The sound was thunderous, even though a piano and a percussionist were the only accompaniment. The movement and the many vocal "parts" came together into a swaying completeness. Stephen, the musical director, demanded precision and drilled the group well.
Act 2 was more somber, more socially conscious, and extremely moving. An original slide show was produced by lighting designer Alison (Ali) Hecimovich, which juxtaposed images of anti-gay protests with pictures of people in support of gay issues with placards for inclusiveness, gay marriage, and gay families. The virulent "christian" and conservative messages, many with children holding up signs promoting hate, gave way to grace, and even humor, when the rainbow came into view.
"This Marriage" was close to a sacred sound, very understated, with complex harmonies. The crowd, hushed, then witnessed a duet from two young and diminutive tenors, convincing in their love for each other, in a number from the musical "The Full Monty".
Another wonderful song of love came in the form of "When I Fall In Love", made so famous by Nat King Cole and others. Mark and the rest of the group were visibly moved by this piece, and the audience responded in kind.
Our new friend (and new chorus member) Greg did a solid interpretation of "Make Them Hear You" from "Ragtime". The lyrics stirred feelings of solidarity and of holding steadfast to one's beliefs, in keeping with the more activist theme of this set.
The finale, "Upon This Shining Night" was, as Director Stephen told us, a song of hope. It was a graceful finish to a wonderful evening of music. Both times, the audience was on its feet.
Here's the mission statement for the Windy City Gay Chorus:
“Windy City Gay Chorus endeavors to be an exceptional men’s chorus with a reputation for performing outstanding music of a variety of styles. Our music shall entertain, enlighten, uplift, enrich and educate a diverse audience as it reflects the human spirit and experience, particularly the gay experience. We seek to support, empower, represent and challenge the gay and lesbian community as a whole through our excellence in music, our commitment to equality and justice for all people and through the portrayal of our lives.”