Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A Thrilling Voyage with Windy City Performing Arts
This past Saturday, the Mayne Stage Theater in Chicago's Roger's Park rang out with the sounds of sea voyages, sailors, world-wide ports of call, drinking songs, lullabyes, humor and poetry, the inexorable flow of the River, and solace for a troubled time.
Chicago's Windy City Performing Arts, comprising The Windy City Gay Chorus (WCGC) and the women's chorus Aria, successfully culminated two months of hard work, comradeship, and a lot of sly fun. Finally, after hearing Mark rehearse his tenor part since January, the numbers came together with the full choir, and the sound was effortless, pleasing, and exciting.
The chorus members have opened their arms wide to Mark, who timidly auditioned exactly one year ago. He was quickly accepted and is now considered a vital member of the chorus, providing his conscientious effort, perfect attendance (!), humor, and friendship.
Our inclusion among this amazing group of talented, diverse and, yes, mischievous performers has given both of us a sense of excitement and belonging that goes missing in our quiet, remote suburban existence. I am honored to be a welcome presence at their events, not a "groupie", and I thank all of the terrific people who I am proud to consider my friends.
This weekend's program, "Bon Voyage", combined an unlikely mix of weighty compositions, international pieces, popular melodies, and camp. The theme of the show was The Sea and World Travel. Stephen Edwards, the Artistic Director, believed in these selections, and shaped the mix into a breezy and energizing two hours.
In a good stage move, Aria performed most of its numbers first, followed by the WCGC, minimizing the number of regroupings that created some pauses in the last two programs. Aria's opening set brought a spiritual dimension to tunes about anchored souls, sea lullabies, and the mysteries of rivers.
Next there was an unusual Serbian piece, a bawdy jingle about women going to the bathouse to kiss ("Niska Banja").
To lighten things up in a more familiar vein, a small combo of two trumpets, a clarinet, and drum joined the grand piano in a lively "Boogie Woogie Bugle Girl of Company B." (Amusing side-note: the original song, a hit for the Andrews Sisters and later a huge success for Bette Midler, was written for a 1941 Abbott and Costello comedy called "Buck Privates". The song was nominated for an Oscar!)
And it wouldn't be the Gay Chorus without some good-natured drag, featuring that uninhibited good sport Carlos Rios as Princess Pupule and her Papayas.
Their set ended with a reflective reading of a poem and musical interpretation of it, "Still I Rise" by Maya Angelou.
In an interlude during Aria's set, a select ensemble of performers (Mark among them) sang "Passage" from a segment of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" (the one that contains the phrase
"O Captain My Captain"). The theater was still during this quiet and powerful tribute to Abraham Lincoln . The "ship" refers to America, and "Captain" is Lincoln himself.
The men took the stage for a rollicking medley of travel tunes beginning with the Oscar-winning melody from "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956). A lighthearted barbershop quartet crooned "Old Cape Cod", followed by the 1930's art-deco stylings of "Allegheny Moon" in a nice solo by David Harvey.
The boys traveled to France for an impossibly fast version of "Vive L'Amour". I smiled in amusement at the talented sign language interpreter (G. Michael Roberts), who gamely kept up with the
ever-increasing tempo until I thought his hands would just fall off.
Homesickness, tranquility, and lusty drinking were captured in the next trio of songs. One of them, "Shenandoah", I heard was so difficult for the group to get the numerous starts timed properly, that it was almost cut from the show. I'm glad it wasn't...it was well done!
A fun couplet of songs by the unusual pairing of The Beach Boys and Enya was performed by a limber quartet as they amused the crowd with their "shipboard" tableaux.
Then the guys triumphed in their most complicated number, the famous Sailor's Chorus from Wagner's Opera "The Flying Dutchman". This familiar tune was difficult to memorize as most members of the chorus speak no German. Caleb Dubson's brief, strong solo punctuated this song, which exuded much energy, and obvious pride in knowing it was being delivered right.
For the finale, both choruses joined for an uptempo, contemporary version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." In a way, the lyrics spoke to the challenges and anguish experienced by many of the members as they established themselves in an often hostile world, and the number held special meaning for this group whose members provided love and support to one another. I can't see how anyone would fail to be moved by this fitting climax to a marvelous show.