Like a torrential, cleansing rain washing away intolerance and hate, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (GMCW) immersed the audience in flowing torrents of song in their current production Born This Way. A vast array of song stylings were showcased with the superior musical excellence we have come to expect from this wonderful group. Under the superior Artistic Direction of Dr. Thea Kano and John Moran, Stage Director, the Chorus delivered messages of tolerance, diversity, and solidarity in a very theatrically effective and thoughtful manner.
The production started in an auspicious manner with haunting strains of the classic song “The Impossible Dream” set against a screen that portrayed maxims from various “persons of note” on the themes of love and acceptance. The innovation of this opening number set the tone for one of the most original productions ever executed by the GMCW.
Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s cutting-edge and very contemporary anthem to the outcast’s heartbreak and plea for acceptance-“Who Will Love Me As I Am?”(From the cult favorite Side Show) was beautifully sung in an intimate style by soloists Robert Dean, Stuart Goldstone, and L. Owen Taggart.
“Over The Rainbow” was sung in a completely new and disarming manner courtesy of a fascinating arrangement by Andy Beck. Potomac Fever sang with a beguiling mix of casual savoir–fare and syncopated rhythm aided by the soloists Matt Holland and Kevin Thomason.
Surging power and Gospel chords permeated the joyously affirmative “Here’s Where I Stand.” Critical analysis lies humbled under the piercing beauty of this song. The gorgeous and lustrous vocal tones of soloists Maiya Sykes, Jarrod Bennett, Marcus Johnson, and Garrick Jordan propelled this number to soaring heights of musical and spiritual transcendence.
“Stay With Me” was sung with purity of tone and heartfelt emotion by Maiya Sykes. Ms. Sykes possesses an impeccable sense of vocal control and never makes the mistake (so prevalent with singers today) of over-emoting and overpowering the song or the other singers.
“You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” (from South Pacific) was wonderfully sung by Soloist Kevin Thomason. This song, so often referred to in contemporary culture, was decidedly ahead of its time in addressing the systematic inculcation of prejudice.
The beloved LGBTQ favorite “True Colors” was intricately performed with a stellar arrangement by Deke Sharon. Potomac Fever and the Rock Creek Singers aided immeasurably as did soloist Justin Ritchie.
The inclusion of the youthful and committed GenOUT Chorus to the proceedings was a decided plus in showing the enthusiastic skills of the nine talented, sincere and politically aware members. The piece “Beautiful” exemplified their passion and also showed the commitment of the GMCW to encourage the participation of youth. GenOUT members Julia Byrne, Ernesto Fritts, Sammy Graceson, Elizaveta Kishchukova, Madisson Lowe, Margaret Nicholson, Evie Priestman, Julia J. Reider, and Breanna Walton should be commended for their courage to stand up for who they are.
The songs “The Great Peace March” and the more traditional “We Shall Overcome” were juxtaposed and presented to captivating theatrical effect with urgent singing and the utilization of protest signs representing the vital causes we can all fight for. Fighting against oppression and standing up for one’s rights were the appropriate hallmarks here. Soloist Michael B. Smith shone.
The beloved and classic (“America”): “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” was effectively presented with the visual backdrop of Marian Anderson making history singing it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and, then, fast-forwarding to the historic inauguration of President Obama by Josh Groban and Heather Headley. As a testament to immigration equality, soloists Cabbie Caban, Ben Aparicio-Coto, Robert Garcia, and Adrian Gonzales sang the anthem first in English and, then, in Spanish.
“Glory” (from the hit film Selma) was one of the decided highlights of the evening. Soloists Maiya Sykes, Romm Gatongay, and John Willett rocked the house with rhythm and high-powered energy.
The popular song “Proud” was another high-energy highlight with Sykes singing jubilantly with fervor and verve. The Rock Creek Singers made the song an electric and ecstatic musical event.
The gay anthem “I Am What I Am” was amusingly initiated with witty bits of theatrical antics and physicality by Fancy Butler, Sam Brinton, Dennis Carew, Sammy Graceson, Rob Hall, and Paul Negron. The interesting arrangement by Alex Rybeck was captivating in its originality.
GenOUT member Evie Priestman recited the lyrics to the song “Born This Way” as a touching poem.
“Beautiful City” (from Godspell) was given a visionary and spiritual interpretation by the GMCW. I could not help but to be moved by the idealism of this song.
As regards the expected closing song of the Chorus—namely, the defiant anthem “Make Them Hear You” (from Ragtime), what more can I possibly say? This song IS the personification of the spirit of the GMCW and it is performed to such a continued high degree of musical excellence with each concert. In this performance it began with measured cadence and quietude only to explode into a tear–inducing, cathartic conclusion. The GMCW rendition of this song is so superior that it would provoke the jealousy of the Gods (if we were living in ancient Greece!). I hope they continue performing this song forever.
Applause and Bravos to all involved who have not been mentioned – especially the Metropolitan Church Choir, Videos by Michael B. Smith, Bass by Mary Scott, Percussion by Dane Krich, Piano by Theodore Guerrant /Michael Gottlieb, and C. Paul Heins-Assistant Conductor.
The GMCW’s production of Born This Way is a unique and very significant event in the trajectory of the Chorus. The mingling of music with the message of progressive solidarity is to be applauded. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC has another winner with this production.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Meet the Performers of GMCW of DC’s ‘Born this Way’: Part 2: Michael “Cabbie” Caban.
Meet the Performers of GMCW of DC’s ‘Born this Way’: Part 1: JJ Vera and Marcus Brown.
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC to Host Dialogue on Equality Following The 3 PM Performance of ‘Born This Way’ on Saturday, May 16th.
Read DCMetroTheaterArts’ coverage of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.
GMCW is awarded a Special Award on DCMetroTheaterArts.