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‘When You Wish’ at Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC

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The seeming “spontaneity,” humor, and freshness of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DCs (GMCW) repertoire and their current concert When You Wish, which is being presented at Washington, DC’s venerable Lincoln Theatre, is only possible through rigorous preparation and rehearsal. Indeed, the commitment of GMCW’s many members shone brightly under the Direction of Dr. Thea Kano. In their amusing and witty current production, which may have eschewed the more dignified moments of concerts past at certain moments, the GMCW still showed superior musical evolvement as most every musical number was delivered with panache, finesse and -–above all—expert “cutting –edge” musical arrangements.

Artistic Director Dr. Thea Kano conducting  during "When You Wish.' Photo courtesy of Gay Men's Chorus of Washington.

Artistic Director Dr. Thea Kano conducting during “When You Wish.’ Photo courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.

Kudos to all involved as the escapist spirit of this delightful show –which celebrated the art of animation—never lost the realistic spirit of “split-second” timing, beautiful harmonizing and superior choreography. Prestigious Stage Director John Moran was tapped for this lively production as there was such an assortment of elements from staging to movement to witty banter and interactive audience participation that needed to be integrated. Most of this enthusiastic evening came together beautifully with an interspersion of stellar technical components (Dynamic costumes by Costume Designer Nicolas Baker, videos by Michael B. Smith, and choreography by Craig Cipollini) abetting the mix of the usual stellar vocalizing we have come to expect from the GMCW.

The evening opened with a trip down animation “memory lane” as video clips from various cartoon series such as The Jetsons, Muppet Babies, Animaniacs, Tom and Jerry, and Bugs Bunny flashed across a giant drop-down screen.

The initial song “Be Our Guest” (from Beauty and the Beast) was a welcome introductory song for the evening’s festivities and the character of Belle was amusingly “dressed-up” as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. The chorus sang in an upbeat, joyful and welcoming manner.

“When You Believe” (from The Prince of Egypt ) started with a mesmerizing quality and built to intense cadences with superior musical accompaniment by Theodore Guerrant on Piano, Mary Scott on Bass, and Dane Krich on Percussion. Soloist Lonny Smith was a standout.

A very interesting cover of the popular standard “A Whole New World” (from Aladdin) was presented in a very lengthy yet very involving and intricate arrangement. Dancers Joshua Chambers and Craig Cipollini danced a very balletic —as well as acrobatic and athletic—-interlude in this song; they added a decidedly sensuous quality to the proceedings. Soloists Rick Bennett and Phil Evans wrapped the song up with a strong finale.

The comedic “Meet the Flintstones” interlude was a cute attempt at humor and campiness but the tone of the bit was a bit flat.

The beloved Disney classic “When You Wish Upon a Star” (from Pinocchio) was sensitively delivered by the wonderfully cohesive and the deftly harmonic Rock Creek Singers group. Kano conducted this piece with unerring timing and quality.

Perhaps the most visually entrancing and stylized moment of the production was the “Raining Sunshine” number (from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). A beautifully choreographed group of dancers (Bravo—Mr. Cipollini!) utilized marvelous dancers with colorful and swirling umbrellas to the strains of this nicely appealing and lightly-airy song. A nice twist to this intriguing and captivating song was the sudden surge of the powerful gay anthem “It’s Raining Men.” Highly-deserved credit must also be given to Dance Captain James Ellzy II for this number and all of the many numbers throughout the production.

“The Bare Necessities” (from The Jungle Book) was a novel and amusing satiric look at the “Bear culture” of the Gay scene and, indeed, the audience was treated to a collection of bears from Smokey the Bear to Paddington Bear and beyond. Soloists John Knapp and Matt Thompson sang with fierce bear-like power amidst the merriment.

The Bare Necessities. Photo courtesy of the GMCW Facebook page.

‘The Bare Necessities.’ Photo courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. DC.

“Under the Sea” (from The Little Mermaid) was a sartorial and eclectic visual feast for the eyes replete with gorgeously costumed “Mer-man,” sea anemones and jellyfish. Costume Designer Nicolas Baker outdid himself in this jubilant number. The calypso –feel of this number was expressed by the GMCW with the appropriate ebullience and joy.

After an informative and quasi-comedic introduction by Kano and Executive Director Chase Maggiano, Act Two opened with a very upbeat –yet casually relaxing —version of “Happy” (from Despicable Me 2) that enforced the affirmative spirit of this particular show. Amidst an exciting group of dancers in overalls jumping for joy, two fine soloists— Jay Gilliam and Marcus Johnson —engaged the audience with supersonic zeal.

Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor, took the stage to conduct a wonderfully soaring and evocative rendering of “When Your Heart has Wings” (from Marco Polo: Return to Xanadu). Soloist Kevin Thomason’s flowing and resonant tenor voice was a triumph of musical excellence —and his almost “falsetto-like” tones at the conclusion added a solid edge to this beautiful song.

“Somewhere Out There” (from An American Tail) was wonderfully delivered by Potomac Fever. The arrangement here (and in other songs) by Audrey Snyder was innovative and exemplary.

Potomac Fever also scored with highly stylized, syncopated, choreographed movements to their appropriately deadpan delivery of the hilarious song “Spider Pig” (from The Simpsons Movie).

The popular “Let it Go” (from Frozen) was very interestingly staged with seven soloists singing their hearts out with highly theatrical stage presence and authority. Credit must be given to soloists Richard Bennett, Christopher Dunay, Phil Evans, Stuart Goldstone, Dana Nearing, Justin Ritchie, and L. Owen Taggart.

A very haunting and reflective cover of the contemporary standard  Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (used in Shrek) was a definite highpoint of the concert. A very soulful and ruminative quality permeated from this piece.

Once again, arranger Audrey Snyder came through with a superior arrangement of what could have been a very sappy and overly –sentimental song. The Rock Creek Singers ‘(by virtue of their very harmonious sound) rendition of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” (from Cinderella) seemed so fresh and new and was very sensitively rendered.

"Under the Sea." Photo courtesy of Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC,

“Under the Sea.” Photo courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, the vocalizing was not often very decipherable in “The Spellblock Tango,” attributed to John Kander and Fred Ebb, which was a parody of their “Cell Block Tango” (from Chicago), with some of the original lyrics changed.

“Poor Unfortunate Soul” (from The Little Mermaid) had very intriguing costuming (Kudos again to Mr. Baker) but the presentation suffered from scratchy technical sound glitches. Aside from this point, Soloist D’Arcee Neal sang gamely but became a mite nebulous and hard to understand in the interpretation of the lyrics to the song. Specific comic and dramatic lines were not given the heightened timing and emphasis that were needed.

“The Circle of Life” (from The Lion King) was the dramatic highpoint of the concert. The song was given added resonance by virtue of members of the Chorus also singing from the aisles of the Theatre as a giant screen showed a dramatically effective montage of Gay life from Stonewall to Harvey Milk to Matthew Shepherd and onwards to the passing of major Gay Rights Bills (Videos by Michael B. Smith). Certainly, this beautiful arrangement by David Maddux, and the inclusion of this dramatic montage added an extremely emotional resonance to this oft-performed song.

As an encore, the GMCW sang their deservedly acclaimed song of empowerment from Ragtime –namely, “Make Them Hear You.” GMCW taps so many layers of meaning in their interpretation of this piece.

Throughout When You Wish’s attempts to integrate the worlds of animation, musical merriment and more seriously-themed songs, GMCW proved once again that they are “upping the ante” on their approach to musical verisimilitude and artistic excellence. The GLBT community and the Theatre and Musical Community at-large should be proud of their efforts.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

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When You Wish played its final performance tonight, March 14, 2015 at The Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Here is information about their upcoming concert Born This Way on May 16 and 17, 2015 at The Lincoln Center.

LINKS

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington is awarded a 2014 Special Award from the staff of DCMetroTheaterArts.

Richard Yarborough and Matt Holland are named ‘Scene Stealers‘ on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Review of Love Rocks! by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Review of Rockin’ the Holidays at The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington by David Frisic on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Review of Love Stinks! by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts.

GMCW Presents ‘Rockin’ The Holidays’ Tomorrow Night at 8 PM at The Lincoln Theatre By Craig Cipollini.

Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC Announces its 2014-2015 Season by Craig Cipollini.

Gay Men’s Chorus Names Dr. Thea Kano Artistic Director.

The Energy and Commitment of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC by David Friscic.

Read reviews of GMCW performances on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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