The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus’ (NYCGMC) annual “Big Gay Sing” sing-along concert at New York University’s Skirball Center, during the weekend of March 18 to 20, was subtitled “Mind the Gap!” and proved a hearty probe of British musical imports from the 1960s to the present. Artistic Director Dr. Charles Beale and Assistant Conductor John J. Atorino guided the performance; Lorna Luft was the special guest star; and Tom McGillis served as sign language interpreter. The second of three concerts, on March 19, is discussed here.
The evening began, under Beale’s baton, with a zesty medley of “God Save the Queen,” complete with procession of royal queens, segueing into Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” with hunky dancers, and Jessie J’s lively “Burning’ Up,” boasting both beefcake and cross-dressers, staging by Ryan Scobie, and choreography by Danny Moreno and Syville Padayo. Musical arrangements were by Atorino and Beale, and Beale conducted. To prepare us for a spirited Spice Girls pairing, Beale rehearsed the audience in our contribution to “Spice Up Your Life” and, assisting the chorus in “Wannabe,” was a quintet of dancers dressed as the Spice Girls.
Forces making a British Invasion medley—of Rolling Stones, Beatles, and Kinks songs “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Love Me Do,” and “You Really Got Me”—into a veritable extravaganza, led by Atorino, were NYCGMC, the SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders) Chorus, a quartet consisting of chorus tenors Ransom Bruce, Scott Morwitz, Michael Byre Baker, and Frank Stancati, and the audience.
Under Beale’s baton, Luft gave us two of Lionel Bart’s songs from “Oliver!,” “Who Will Buy?” and “As Long As He Needs Me,” touching, throbbing, belted, and with great chest tones, all of which seem to run in the family. She and Beale chatted over tea. When she was eight, Luft moved to London, where her famous mother, Judy Garland, was making what would be her final motion picture, “I Could Go on Singing,” and since then, Luft has lived half her life in the UK and half in the USA. First introduced by her mother to music of the Beatles, Luft explained, “They gave a voice to us teenagers.” They also chatted about Stonewall and activism and, regarding her experience with NYCGMC, who are musicians and activists alike, Luft declared, “I feel so honored to share the stage with some of the most talented, wonderful voices!”
Ever au courant, NYCGMC, with soloist Eugene Lovendusky, embraced Adele hit “Hello,” before turning to a sing-along tribute to Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, and Shirley Bassey—“Son of a Preacher Man” with same-sex couples country dancing around a drag Dusty, the ever-popular “Downtown,” and a dramatic “This Is My Life,” with soloist Edwin Sutton as Bassey. Atorino was the conductor. Michael Byre Baker, sporting feather boa and oversized glasses, guest conducted a moving Elton John pairing, a hushed “Your Song” and, with Bruce Ward as soloist, a crescendoing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Beale returned to the podium for George Michael’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” with a full colorful corps of dancers, and presided over the remainder of the performance.
The chorus returned to Queen for grand and sonorous tour-de-force “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with the sections more than doing justice to all vocal parts, from high head tone on down. Matt Mroczka and Michael Hart were the fine soloists. Music of the ’80s was the focus of a medley of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and Depeche Mode’s “I Just Can’t Get Enough,” which got us up on our feet, singing and clapping along.
Luft helped introduce a tribute to David Bowie, saying, “He was so beautiful. I thought he looked just like Katharine Hepburn! … He was the first rock and roller to bring theater to rock and roll … I admired the way he took us all on his journey.” NYCGMC’s Bowie songs, arranged by Steve Milloy and Beale, were a soaring and swelling “Life on Mars” and a pulsating “Changes.”
In Radiohead’s “Creep,” NYCGMC, soloist Ramzy Masri and, executing choreography devised by Padayo, interpretive dancers Simon Mathis, Keiji Kubo, and Padayo himself probed the pain of the outsider. In upbeat contrast, the chorus, with soloists Sean Segerstrom and Tony Alberti, urged “Shake It Out,” in the Florence and the Machine number, which was followed by Clean Bandit’s heartening “Rather Be,” as a joyous song and dance. Arrangements of “Creep” and “Rather Be” were by Milloy and, of “Shake It Out,” by Beale. Padayo and Moreno choreographed “Shake It Out” and Moreno, “Rather Be.” Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand,” with a short segue into the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” and solos by NYCGMC’s pop a cappella group Tonewall, was the ecstatic finale, and from the very old to the very new, Thomas Arne’s “Rule, Britannia” segueing into the Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj song “Bang Bang” was the encore.
NYCGMC sings its Pride Concert, “Love Songs for Love Stories,” on June 17 at 8 p.m., at Skirball, 556 LaGuardia Place. Visit www.nycgmc.org
, the Big Apple Performing Arts web site, for further information.