Monday, December 13, 2010

A Smash: Windy City Gay Men's Chorus at the Mayne Stage

This is a tribute to a group of talented, high-spirited guys from all over Chicagoland.  The Windy City Gay Men's Chorus (along with the women's chorus Aria) offered a fine holiday program three times this weekend in the a hidden-gem venue in Rogers Park called the Mayne Stage.  I was fortunate to attend both Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Thanks to Mark and his effort, I got to be a part of it, and received the warmest possible welcome. 

About the performance itself, I must congratulate the brilliant Artistic Director for leading this fun-loving (and often playfully unruly, I assume) group through two sets of complex, unusual, beautiful music and a number of familiar tunes and a couple of comic set-pieces. 

And the chorus members, all of them, pored their voices and bodies into each number. Each one looked handsome in his black tuxedo.  These musical men sang their hearts out for each other as well as for the pleasure of their appreciative audiences.  The camaraderie was evident in the somber sacred choral pieces, in the well-known songs like "Do You Hear What I Hear" and "Grown-Up Christmas List", and especially during the campy interludes, in which they got to let their guard down and have fun.

Let me just say that to mention any one by name would be to exclude someone else.  So, no names... You were all fabulous....and if I didn't get to tell each one individually how much I loved your unique contributions, consider this a private bravo.

As I looked at both groups, men and women, it was intriguing to think that upon that stage were 80 personal stories of pain, self-discovery, and acceptance.  No matter how intense the stories might have been, they all led each one to this moment on this stage, all of their lives bringing them together in this effort.  It was the stuff of a great novel... I think this notion first came to me during the first Russian Orthodox piece, as the voices swelled from the stage to embrace me with warmth and comfort.

Some audience members wept during the traditional Hebrew "Bashana Haba'ah", a story of the circle of life.

Best of all were the cheers, and laughter, during the "Boogie Woogie Hanukkah"; and again in Act Two during the mock NPR broadcast from KWIR in Morality Falls, and the silly, sexy story of the Krampus, Saint Nicholas' evil assistant from hell....

Of course, it wouldn't be a gay chorus without a nod to the opera, even a giddy one, as a jazzy version of "Jingle Bells" gave way to a slow, soprano aria solo of the carol, complete with feather boa.

An encore of "Silent Night" was led by the only woman in the men's chorus, and whose mellow baritone held the crowd.

The show was paced perfectly, as more traditional fare blended easily into novelty numbers, and popular songs followed fascinating international tunes.  The lyrics to some of these world-songs, dense and difficult to memorize, were handled triumphantly through the coordinated effort of the chorus.

Even if I had the heart to do so, I cannot say that I could list any criticisms about the show.  It was emotionally, and aurally, wonderful.

Special good cheer is directed to the sign-language interpreter, whose delicate and expressive fingers were an art form alone, and who used his face and body to slyly interpret the meaning of the songs. And the accompanists, especially on piano, violin, flute and bongo drums, were professional and often amazing. 

The Mayne Stage is a wonderful concept in local urban theater, with a cabaret-style auditorium, great acoustics, and an appropriately sophisticated cafe and staff to run it.  We will be back often.

After the show, Mark and I attended a celebration with the choir members.  We both made lasting friends that evening, among a wonderful community of generous and artistic people, discussing everything from music and singing, to school teaching and cooking, from books and theater, to the nasty weather and travel to balmier climes.  The more energetic continued their singing around a friendly piano.

You can be sure I will be at the next concert in March.

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