The annual Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW) holiday concert entitled ReWrapped was a lively holiday treat that combined cutting-edge musical arrangements with a light, breezy, and jazz-flavored flair.
This progressive, talented, and musically innovative organization is a jewel in the crown of the Washington, DC metro area‘s arts scene. Though there are still some fun and campy, “over-the-top” moments in their concerts, the GMCW now merges these more amusing moments under the artistic umbrella of sheer top-notch artistic showmanship and musical excellence. Under the taught and highly applaudable Artistic Direction of Dr. Thea Kano and the creative thrust of Stage Director John Moran, this concert represented the GMCW at their most creative, sophisticated, and talented yet.
Opening with a breezy version of Freddie Mercury’s “Christmas Rhapsody,” the Chorus looked resplendent in striking tuxedos, green ties, and entrancing lapel pins. This arrangement by Mark Brymer and new lyrics by Michael B. Smith was a bold and bouncy delight. The hard rock thrust of this song engaged – along with an upbeat holiday ambiance. Alternately jaunty—then, reflective,- this song rocked!
Beautiful harmony and purity of tone enveloped “Festival Gloria,” by Randall Johnson. Spirituality was liberated from stodgy constraints in this moving piece.
For me, one of two major standouts was a stirring musical arrangement contrasting the full chorus singing the pensive and placid traditional 15th Century German Carol “Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming” against the contemporary tone of Amanda McBroom’s poignant “The Rose.” These two disparate tones – the traditional and the contemporary – played off each other beautifully. Soloist Kevin Thomason sang with purity of tone and clarity as he walked down the aisle of the theater to a lustrous spotlight at the corner of the stage.
The youthful GENOUT chorus (which is such an inspiration to a new generation of LGBTQ youth) followed with an earnest and pleasing version of the traditional song “The Coventry Carol.”
Next up was a beautiful and dignified rendition of the song “Over the Skies of Yisrael.” A very stately, slowly resonant and quiet strength was conveyed by the full Chorus.
The “a capella-oriented” Potomac Fever group shone as they sang a jubilant and joyous cover of the traditional favorite “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (Arranged by Patrick Rose). Syncopated, rhythmic choreography by Maria Watson was joyous and exuberant. They followed this number with a bouncy and breezy rendition of the contemporary “All I Want for Christmas is You.” An outstanding solo by Paul Negron emphasized the almost elusively light and airy tone of this song.
Jump up to the full Chorus and the second major highlight (of many!) of the evening: “O Holy Night” as arranged by Mark Hayes was brilliantly conceived. This arrangement (with a mesmerizing Solo by Cooper Westbrook) was given a subtle classical jazz underpinning and the result was a totally exciting and new version of this beloved song.
The favorite “Sleigh Ride” was a slyly witty visual delight complete with a live sleigh gliding across the stage and snowflakes falling from the rafters (courtesy of Eric Johnson).
The traditional “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (as arranged by Mark Riese) was also give a nice twist as it was delivered in a light and jaunty manner. Indeed, a fitting conclusion to Act One.
Act Two opened with an interesting sartorial change as green ties were exchanged for red ties. An opening interlude that celebrated the GMCW’s historic trip to Cuba was conveyed through a colorful dance presentation of the joyous “A Cuban Holiday.” Fascinating choreography (once again—by Maria Watson) was on display with very intricate movements. A riot of color ensued – credit the stunning costumes by Charles “Mo” Jones-Hanners, Matt Komornik, D’Arcee Neal, and Tony Prestridge.
The standard “Little Drummer Boy” was superbly performed, followed by the committed and highly-involved GENOUT Chorus, who came back in a much more relaxed fashion to engagingly entertain one and all with a three –minute version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” – quite aptly renamed “The Nutcracker…..In About Three Minutes.” As arranged by Mark Weston, the lyrics were captivating and hilarious and delivered with the unabashed honesty of youth.
GENOUT’s follow-up “Don’t Be A Jerk This Christmas” was a satiric and highly amusing admonition to the audience to “be good boys and girls” over the holidays! As arranged by Roger Emerson, the song was a comic diversion that worked exceedingly well.
The full Chorus came onstage – once again singing out full-throttle – to sing the inspiring “Al Slosha D’Varim” (written by Allan E. Naplan). This evocative piece was sung with a very peaceful and soothing tone.
The wonderful Rock Creek Singers were up next and they sang an uplifting and pleasant version of the popular “Do you Hear What I Hear?”. As arranged by Harry Simeone, the rendering of this song was disarming and engaging.
“Let it Snow” (As arranged by Julien Neel) was a very unique and beguilingly comic interlude. As performed so ably by soloists Rick Bennett, Cory Claussen, Adrian Gonzalez, and Rich Grant, this piece became a delirious spoof on romantic entanglements and was quite sweet and endearing in its appeal.
“Variations on Fa La La” – as sung by the full Chorus –was verbally complex and wildly innovative to the max. In this traditional song, the arrangement by Chuck Bridwell was anything but conventional or traditional. This musical parody became a humorous medley with interlaced variations on “Fa La La” from mock operetta to a waltz to the “1812 Overture” replete with clashing cymbals.
The Second Act continued its more comic tone as the Chorus sang the audaciously witty “Twelve Days After Christmas” (by Frederick Silver). Here the blasted partridge is killed and an appropriately “Scrooge-like” attitude prevailed.
“Favorite One” (by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) was a popular favorite with a delirious Santa at the center surrounded by high-kicking, beautifully choreographed (again, credit Choreographer Maria Watson and these wonderful dancers!) dancers in sparkling white reindeer outfits. Indeed, this song elicited laughs and amusement galore from the audience.
The concert concluded with a nicely-blended Christmas medley – namely, “Christmas on Broadway” arranged by John Higgins. This creative, exuberant and robust medley incorporated musical snippets from “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas,” “Toyland,” “My Favorite Things,” and “We Need a Little Christmas.” Three lithe and agile “elves” (decked out in striking reds and greens) danced and jumped to soaring heights and added much to the proceedings.
Commendations must be given to many people for this superb concert and – aside from the people cited here – I would like to commend every single person involved with this production. Musicians Mary Scott on Bass, Kevin McDonald and Dane Krich on Percussion, and Brad Rinaldo and Theodore Guerrant on Piano assisted with superior instrumental performances.
Stage Director John Moran performed double-duties with absolutely breathtaking lighting. Theodore Guerrant should be applauded for his role as Principal Accompanist. John Norberg was the Master Carpenter. The Vocal Coach Emeritus was Philip Rogerson, and the Assistant Conductor was C. Paul Heins. The Dance Captains were Craig Cipollini and James Ellzy and they are to be applauded for encouraging such superior dancing from each and every one of their superb dancers.
In closing, I must once again commend the superior artistic leadership of Artistic Director Thea Kano and the strong leadership of Executive Director, Chase Maggiano. This production of ReWrapped is a holiday memory to treasure!
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
ReWrapped plays through December 13, 2015 at The Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street, NW, in Washington, DC. The final two performances will take place on Saturday, December 12th at 8 PM and on Sunday, December 13th at 3 PM. For tickets, purchase them online.