‘A Gay Man’s Guide to Broadway’ With Special Guest Laura Benanti

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The respected and accomplished Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. (GMCW) certainly progressed through the canon of “gay-friendly” songs (i.e.: songs written by Gay writers, songs adored by the Gay community) in their recent Sunday afternoon concert entitled A Gay Man’s Guide To Broadway. The title of this concert may have been just a tad too restrictive to convey the universal and all-encompassing feelings of bittersweet nostalgia, sentiment and communal affection that flowed between the audience and the members of the Chorus during this very professional evening of musical highlights, humor, and identifiable human drama. Aside from the fact that the chorus members were singing at full throttle with a sheen of artistic precision and rigor, Tony-Award winning Broadway star Laura Benanti thrilled the audience with the beauty of her voice, and fond farewells were given to Artistic Director Jeff Buhrman (as this was the last GMCW concert he would be conducting). This concert transcended its content and turned into an artistic “event.” The wonderful acoustics of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall aided immeasurably to the enjoyment of the concert.

Laura Benanti. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.
Laura Benanti. Photo courtesy of George Mason University.

Opening with an exuberant and well-choreographed “Hello” from The Book of Mormon, the chorus then had another highlight with a superb rendition (complete with sailor regalia) of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” from the show of the same name. Stellar choreography in both numbers must be credited to Choreographer Craig Cipollini.

Soloist Michael Secrist captivated the Concert Hall with his beautiful voice as he sang the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein standard “Oklahoma” from the show of the same name. As the full chorus joined in with cowboy whoops and yells, the song climaxed with a thrilling crescendo.

After this marvelous song, Ms. Benanti entered in a stunning, shimmering, light gold form-fitting dress and sang a charming rendition of Jerome Kern’s “I’m Old Fashioned”. She, then, sang a witty and endearing cover of Lerner and Loewe’s “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” from Gigi.  Benanti possesses a very zany, earthy, and offbeat sense of humor which provided moments of sheer bliss in her patter between songs and she, also, imbued her lighter songs with this sense of humor.

Benanti wrapped up this component of her appearance in the show with a moving and evocative rendering of the increasingly performed (and deservedly so–the song is one of the best love songs ever written) “Unusual Way” by Maury Yeston from the acclaimed musical Nine.

Benanti’s late Uncle Bob was one of the founding members of the Chorus and she, quite obviously, performed with such intensity and verve as a tribute to his memory. Benanti sang a total of six solo numbers and joined the full company for two numbers. It is rare for a star of this magnitude to participate to such a large degree in a venue of this nature (–one is usually grateful for two or three songs!) so it was an added treat for everyone to hear such a wealth of material from Benanti’s repertoire. It was, also, emotionally fulfilling to see the obvious warmth and collegiality she showed towards the Chorus.

The opening highlight of Act Two was a very subtle, tender yet powerful delivery of William Finn’s plaintive “What More Can I Say?” from Falsettoland. Associate Music Director Thea Kano came onstage to personally conduct this standout of the concert–as she led the Rock Creek Singers with classic understatement.

A comedic highlight, following close on the heels of the aforementioned, was the ribald puppetry of the novelty song “If You Were Gay” from the musical Avenue Q. Soloists Richard Yarborough and Matt Holland handled the audience like a pair of old vaudeville troupers with expert timing and physical skill.

The entire GMCW sang a rousing, anthem-like version of “Do You Hear the People Sing” from the huge musical success Les Miserables. The lighting of blue, red and white on the pillars of the set was very impressive and credit must be given to Lighting Designer A. J. Guban.

Laura Benanti returned to the stage with her soaring, almost divine soprano thrilling the audience with sharply-etched renderings of Sondheim’s “So Many People” from the musical Saturday Night and various songs from his cult classic Passion. Benanti’s voice is almost operatic in its purity and tone—often she does not close off lines or words with tight consonants but, rather, she chooses to let her voice glide loosely so that one gets totally caught up in the peak of the melody.

Benanti closed off her solo numbers with a zany rendering of David Yazbek’s “Model Behavior”–from her critically acclaimed portrayal of Candela, her character from the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

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The entire (over 250 members!) GMCW joined Benanti for an absolute knockout of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I. The closing lines of this beloved standard sent romantic chills down my spine.

Soloist Ryan Williams and a group of marvelous dancers stood out in the wonderfully upbeat and joyous Cynthia Lauper song “Raise You Up/Just Be” from the current Broadway hit and last year’s Tony Award Best Musical Kinky Boots. Splendid harmonizing by the Chorus, intricate choreography by Cipollini, and –especially–edgy costuming by Nicolas Baker, made this number possibly the best of the entire concert.

Jerry Herman’s beloved and defiant gay anthem “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles was sung beautifully by soloist Matthew Thompson in the opening components and, then, concluded with the entire company singing full-out with proud dignity and defiance as befits this popular favorite.

Artistic Director, Jeff Buhrman.
Artistic Director Jeff Buhrman.

Emotions in the Hall reached a peak as the Board of Directors acknowledged the gratitude of one and all to departing longtime Artistic Director, Jeff Buhrman. As the many accomplishments of Mr. Buhrman were cited–from reaching out to LGBT youth, to performing at rural communities and schools and retirement homes, to raising the bar of musical standards for Gay Choruses–you could not hear a pin drop in the Concert Hall. Then, Mr. Buhrman stepped forward to an almost five-minute ovation of immense feeling and intensity. Mr. Buhrman spoke humbly of being honored to have presided over the GMCW for so many years and waxed nostalgic for the early days when initial members such as Fred Boykin and others helped to spur the group onwards leading up to the immense acclaim that the group enjoys today. Indeed, his speech led one to look hopefully toward the future under the leadership of Executive Director Chase Maggiano.

A stunning musical finale closed this stellar concert event, namely –a very creative medley of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. Ms. Benanti joined the entire Chorus to help end the Concert on the hopeful note that is the essence of this wonderful Chorus.

It must be mentioned that the concert was delightfully narrated with amusing anecdotes about musical theatre by Chris Cochran and William Cutter. These narrative interludes were extremely well-delivered and sophisticated in their comedic appeal.

A celebratory air of artistic pride and camaraderie was decidedly in the air during A Gay Man’s Guide To Broadway, and this pride was more than justified; I have never seen a better concert by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

A Gay Man’s Guide To Broadway with special guest Laura Benanti was performed on Sunday, May 18, 2014 at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall-2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For more information on future events, go to their performance calendar.

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Under the direction of Executive Director Chase Maggiano and Artistic Director Jeff Buhrman, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC is beginning its 33rd season with a mission that is dynamic and socially-relevant. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington delights audiences and champions gay equality with robust artistry, fun and surprise. GMCW has more than 200 singing members, two select vocal ensembles, 100 support volunteers, more than 500 subscribers, 500 donors and an annual audience of more than 12,000 people.

GMCW is honored to include in its history iconic venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the White House, Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall in Boston, the Lincoln Memorial, presidential inauguration celebrations, and more. GMCW features two select outreach vocal ensembles: Potomac Fever, a 14-voice close harmony group, and Rock Creek Singers, a 35-voice chamber ensemble.

Since 2001, GMCW has maintained a robust youth outreach program, GenOUT, that offers free tickets to high school students, parents and teachers, in addition to offering in-school outreach and empowerment programs. The Chorus demonstrates its commitment to community outreach projects by participating in the Whitman-Walker AIDS Walk, an annual toy drive to benefit Community Family Life Services, Christmas Eve caroling at the National Institutes of Health and volunteering at Food & Friends. GMCW is a proud member of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA Choruses) and Chorus America.

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

Review of ‘XANADU’ by David Friscic.

Director Craig Cipollini on The Gay Men’s Chorus’ ‘XANADU’ Playing this Weekend at Lisner by Joel Markowitz.

Gay Men’s Chorus Presents ‘Winter Nights’ Tonight and Saturday at Lisner Auditorium by Taunee Grant.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC presents “Sparkle, Jingle, Joy” This Friday and Saturday 12/20 & 21 at Lisner by Craig Cipollini.

GMCW Presents ‘Von Trapped’ on 3/14-16 at Lisner Auditorium.





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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.