Review: ‘TransAmerica’ at Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC

In one of the most timely, important, and liberatory concerts the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC has yet produced. 'TransAmerica' celebrated the possibility of affirming one’s authentic selfhood without derogating anyone else’s.

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At a historical moment when appalling new waves of gender fundamentalism sweep our nation, leaving bigotry and violence in their wake, it was beyond refreshing to hear the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC’s TransAmerica concert Saturday night at Lincoln Theater. Featuring a stage full of soaring, sonorous voices and an astute program of songs in celebration of authentic selfhood, it was, in a word, exhilarating.

Even before the music began, the program’s inclusionary spirit was proclaimed in four flags hanging from balconies astride the stage. The program identified them this way:

TransAmerica community flags

The significance of the sweeping scope of this concert cannot be overstated. The LGBT world has experienced its own internalized gender fundamentalism, for instance, the uncivil faction who want to “take the T out of LGBT.” Meanwhile, among the saner and kinder-hearted, letters keep being added to the acronym to embrace more and more whose gender identities have been marginalized and disparaged in defense of patriarchal power and privilege. (It’s up to, I think, LGBTQIA+.) Thus for the Gay Men’s Chorus to declare with this program its allyship with all for whom those four flags fly is a remarkable testament to what “pride” ought to mean.

GMCW_TA_Key_2
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and the 17th Street Dance performing “I Love You”/”What a Wonderful World,” during the TransAmerica concert. Photo by Michael Key.

The opening number was a thrilling, full-throated performance by the 200-plus chorus of “Let the River Run,” interpreted by the 17th Street Dance troupe. Conductor Thea Kano, statuesque in black waistcoat and bejeweled shoes, commanded every emotion in the music with precision and passion. (The full program can be found below.)

The first of several speakers to give first-person testimony was Keygan Miller, who spoke of the pain of constantly being challenged by the question “What are you?” Miller then set the tone of courage for the evening: “I am done being anything but who I am.”

In another very personal statement, Morgan Dori said that the last election “changed my hope to fear.”

In this context, the Rock Creek Singers, a subset of the Gay Men’s Chorus, brought tender poignancy to Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird”:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
GMCW_TA_Key_3
The GenOUT chorus, performing during the TransAmerica concert. Photo by Michael Key.

The GenOUT Chorus, a vocal ensemble begun by the Gay Men’s Chorus for LGBTQ youth and their allies, entered from the auditorium in smart black outfits and colorful ties. They went on to sing a stirring rendition of “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen, which has become the musical voice on Broadway of teenage outsiders—those who, in the words of one GenOUT member, “dare to create a better world” for themselves. The GenOUT Chorus’s simple gesture of taking each other’s hands, one by one, connecting everyone in the row, powerfully underscored “You are not alone.”

The moving words of Debi Jackson, the mother of a daughter named Avery who is trans, were read by Vanessa Ford. At four years old Avery told her mom, “You know I’m a girl, right?” Jackson’s family story became a beautiful emblem of acceptance and unconditional love.

Act One ended with pink paper blossoms strewn on the stage and nine dancers in white having exuberant fun in them as the chorus sang a medley of “I Love You” and “What a Wonderful World.”

Act Two got the audience roaring with a novelty number about bathroom bills, the chorus of which was “We just want to pee!”

But before long the mood was somber as the subject of suicide was broached in first-person testimony and song. One number, “Please Stay,” was especially touching:

Don’t let your worst day be your last.
Please stay
The GenOUT singers returned with a rousing version of “Truly Brave,” better known by words from its chorus:
I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show

Headlining the concert was Breanna Sinclairé, whose awesome operatic soprano filled the house with feeling on “Somewhere” from West Side Story and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel.

At the end was an uplifting “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman featuring the entire company fronted by Sinclairé in a duet with JJ Vera. It was a specular finale that for the moment made keeping track of whose gender is what irrelevant.

In keeping with the program’s spirit of inclusivity, there was poem by Charles R. Butler, Neto, projected on screen during intermission. It read in part:

What do you see when you look at me?
Am I a boy or a girl?
Do I make you uncomfortable?
The rainbow from man to woman is not
A clear difference even inside.
Why not address me
As the person I choose.
Help me discover my soul.
Perhaps in my choosing,
You will find yourself new,
Recounting your journey within,
Help me to help you affirm who you are,
Comfortable in your own skin.

The concert put centerstage some of the individuals who are most hurt by society’s gender policing. But really, who isn’t? Lots of people go around obsessed with what is normal. People who presume themselves normal go around fearful of those they presume are not. In order to be what they think is normal, they put down those they think are not. Eventually everyone ends up somewhere on that put-down or be-put-down vicious circle.

TransAmerica was one of the most timely, important, and liberatory concerts the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC has yet produced. In each and every programming choice and performance, it celebrated the possibility of affirming one’s authentic selfhood without derogating anyone else’s. That is a radical notion still. The world would be better off if more people got it. This concert set it to music—and left one humming the tune.

ACT ONE

GMCW and 17TH STREET DANCE
“Let the River Run” by Carly Simon from Working Girl, arranged by Steven Milloy

Speaker: Keygan Miller

GMCW
“I Am Willing” by Holly Near, arranged by Steven Milloy
Soloist: Keygan Miller

Speaker: Morgan Don

“Everyday People” by Sylvester Stewart, arranged by Mark Brymer
Speaker: Alex Tyson

“Who Will Love Me As I Am?” by Henry Krieger and Bill Russell from Side Show
Soloists: Michael Dumlao and Ellery Rhodes

ROCK CREEK SINGERS
“Blackbird” by Paul McCartney, arranged by Steven Withers

GenOUT CHORUS
Speakers: Camilla Barillas and Becca Schaefer
“Caitlyn” by Anya Turner and Robert Grusecki
“You Will Be Found” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from Dear Evan Hansen, arranged by Mac Huff
Soloist: Daniella Zapata

GMCW
“At the Heart” by Gerard Gurss from “That’s Good Enough” by Debi Jackson, about her daughter Avery’s journey to be her authentic self
Narrator: Vanessa Ford

GMCW and 17TH STREET DANCE
“I Love You”/”What a Wonderful World” by Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, George Davie Weiss, and Bob Thiele, arranged by Craig Hella Johnson
Soloist: Michael McGovern

Onscreen poem during intermission: “Hidden Lives” by Charles. R. Butler, Neto

ACT TWO

GMCW
“Our Number One Problem” by Eric Lane Barnes
Bathroom Bill: Joe Burton

Speaker: JJ Vera

17TH STREET DANCE
“The Village” by Stephen Wrabel
Soloist: Stephen Crisp

Speaker: Fancy Butler

POTOMAC FEVER
“You Matter to Me” by Sara Bareilles from Waitress, arranged by Brad Stephenson
Soloists: Matt Holland and Kevin Thomason

GMCW
“For the Fallen” by Mike Sammes
Oboe: Alec Sherman

“Please Stay” by Jake Runestad
Soloist: Dana Nearing

Speaker: Sam Brinton

GMCW and GenOUT CHORUS
“Truly Brave” by Cynthia Lauper and Sara Bareilles, arranged by Mac Huff

BREANNA SINCLAIRÉ
“Somewhere” by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim from West Side Story

GMCW and BREANNA SINCLAIRÉ
“You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II from Carousel, arranged by Johnny Mann

GMCW, GenOUT CHORUS, 17TH STREET DANCE, and BREANNA SINCLAIRÉ
“This Is Me” by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul from The Greatest Showman, arranged by Dave Volpe
Soloists: JJ Vera and Breanna Sinclairé

____

Stage Direction by Frank D. Shutts, II
Conducted by Thea Kano
Choreographed by Craig Cipollini and James Ellzy
Musicians: Theodore Guerrant  (Piano), Shawn Alger (Bass), Don Jons (Drums)
Production Manager: Joe Vignali
Associate Production Managers: Chipper Dean, Betsy Libretta
Technical Director: Solomon HaileSelassie
GenOUT Director: C. Paul Heins
17th Street Dance Director: Craig Cipollini
Seasons of Love Directors: Marcus Brown, Calvin Robinson
Costume Design: Gary Turner
Lighting Design: Thea Kano, Frank Shutts

___

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

TransAmerica was presented by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC on Saturday, June 2, and Sunday, June 3, 2018, at the Lincoln Theatre – 1215 U Street, in Washington, DC. For future GMCW concerts and events go to their website.

LINKS:

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington Performs Durufle’s ‘Requiem’ with Soprano Breanna Sinclairé by Darby DeJarnette

Review: ‘And the Tony Goes to…’ at The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC by John Stoltenberg

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John Stoltenberg
Among the hats John Stoltenberg wears are novelist and author, creative director and communications strategist, and avid theatergoer. Decades ago, in college, he began writing, producing, directing, and acting in plays. He continued through grad school—earning an M.F.A. in theater arts from Columbia University School of the Arts—then lucked into a job as writer-in-residence and administrative director with the influential experimental theater company The Open Theatre, whose legendary artistic director was Joseph Chaikin. Meanwhile Stoltenberg’s own plays were produced off-off-Broadway, and he won a New York State Arts Council grant to write plays. Then his life changed course: He turned to writing nonfiction and what became a distinguished career as a magazine editor. But he kept going to the theater, the art form that for him has always been the most transcendent and transporting and best illuminates the acts and ethics that connect us. He tweets at @JohnStoltenberg.