Monday, June 27, 2011

Windy City Performing Arts, and Pride

The concerts of the Windy City Gay Men's Chorus and Aria are among my most eagerly awaited events of the year.  One year ago, Mark performed in his first concert with this group.  Last Saturday, he sang in his fourth, another wonderful, moving and hilarious revue called "Road Trip!"

Artistic Director Stephen Edwards used "Journeys" as his unifying theme for this year's concerts.  Last March the group took us on adventures around the world. For this, the Spring Pride show, the travel was close to home, as a way of demonstrating the beauty and strength of the contributions gay people have made all over America.

In its new venue, the Auditorium at Senn High School, the Chorus had a larger stage, with more room on the risers, leading to a more relaxed performance, and more room for their unique brand of comic mayhem.

The first act was more subdued, with songs that were like wistful reflections on our life's destinations as gay people, the possibilities still before us, and the meaning of home.  Act two was raucous and unbridled, a true road-trip, complete with sing-alongs, a touch of good-natured drag, Broadway satire, sailors and Texas Aggies, Muppets and Madames, freaks and a cheerful declaration of Pride.

The show distilled the hope that is the essence of every Road Trip, and in this case, the very special hope for lives of extraordinary journeys.

"You can take the color out of Colorado,
You can take the Mary out of Maryland...
As John Philip Sousa said
I can't march if I can't hear
The Boys in the Band..."

The sweet voices of the Aria Women's chourus kicked things off with their characteristic wordless vocal arrangement from the Republic of Georgia, "Satamasho", a song which children might sing while playing. A gentle plea from France followed, "Vois sur ton chemin"calling for us to take the hands of lost and forgotten children, to lead them to other tomorrows.  Next, a lovely, quiet version of "Rhythm of Life" from "Sweet Charity" reminded us of the powerful heartbeat of life.

"Everything Possible" was unexpectedly moving, a song that might be sung by a parent to a gay child, filled with love and encouragement for us to be who we are, and pursue the path that feels right to us.  It is a song many of us wish, in fantasy, that our parents had sung to us when we were children.

Mark appeared then, in a small ensemble, for "The Road Home", an emotional double-whammy after "Everything Possible", a song that might be sung by a grown child who cannot return home, and is looking for a new road, an new place to belong.  The beautiful vocalizations suggested, to me, the men's chorus used in the mountain scenes of "The Deer Hunter".

The Men's Chorus assembled then for a trio of Old-English melodies by Ralph Vaughn Williams from "Songs of Travel". 

And in a thrilling departure, the Chorus tore through a wildly rhythmic and energetic "Wedding Qawwali" by Slumdog Millionaire's A.R. Rahman.  This was the most difficult piece of the evening, and it was put over wonderfully, with subtle support from a drummer and guitarist.  The song was also  fascinatingly interpreted by the group's agile Sign Language performer.

After Intermission, we got some lighthearted pieces that many remembered from their childhoods, the Muppets' "Movin' Right Along", and "Ease On Down The Road" from "The Wiz".  With that, the road trip was underway!

"You can't take the sissy out of Mississippi
He's there and he's going to stay!..."

Aria came back with that staple of '60's Easy Listening radio, "Route 66", followed by an homage to the open road, "Wide Open Spaces".

A quartet of especially zaftig good sports hammed it up in size 12 pumps and "Maude"-style dresses for a round of "Let's Get Away From It All". 

What's a road trip without a sing-along in the car?  So, the group decided that the Lesbians would rock out to Four Non-Blondes' "What's Up" ("I said hey---What's going on?"), and the Gay Boys would channel their inner Cher ... with four of her biggest hits. All of these were presented with projected lyrics, and the audience had a blast.

In an Oscar-worthy departure for the Men's chorus, "The Aggie Song" from "Best Little Whorehouse...", almost had me convinced that these were all horny young football players on their way to get "made" at that famous Texas establishment......

"You can't kick our asses out of Massachusetts
Or subtract the ten percent from Tennessee
Utah could never be the beehive state
If the hairdressers went absentee..."

Not to be outdone, Aria offered their own special Broadway number, a version of "There is Nothing Like A Dame" from "South Pacific", that worked extremely well, without changing a word of the song!

Perhaps in the funniest, most original number, a bitchy and inclusive Pride anthem that might have been written by the Steel Magnolias or Golden Girls themselves, the Men's Chorus belted "Color Out of Colorado", from the 1996 Broadway comedy revue "When Pigs Fly", parts of which I have been quoting throughout this piece:

"Chicago without chic
Would be boring in a week
And you cant have New York City without.................Queens!!"

And to keep the energy and hilarity high for the finale, the whole Company joined, in home-made costume, for "Freak Flag", from the Broadway musical "Shrek".  In it, Pinocchio is afraid others will discover he's not "a real boy", and everyone from the Three Pigs to the Wicked Witch convince him to "let your freak flag fly", that being a "freak" is not so bad, and can be celebrated.

It was a special evening of two concerts. Our friends Jillian and Phillip joined us for the first show, and their presence and show of support meant a lot to us.  Especially poignant for Mark was that his youngest son came home from college for the weekend just to attend the show.  He loved it.

So now, the group is off for the summer (barring any special-request appearances) and will re-group again in September to rehearse for the ---dare I say it???---Holiday Concert.

Another Bravo to my friends of the Windy City Performing Arts.

"You need us
To make the U.S.A.!!"


  1. Tom, I was so moved after reading your great review of our concerts. This brings back all the joy I had performing with my fabulous WCPA friends. Thank you for all of your support. Love you!

  2. Always look forward to these posts. They give me new songs to add to my playlist :)

  3. What a great recap of our shows!

  4. Sounds like a great night, with a fantastic mix of songs to enjoy.

  5. I am always happy to promote the group!
    Walter and Ben, it would be awesome if you could attend a concert some day.