Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus
Holiday Spirit! - December 5, 2014
by Winslow Rogers
Where could you go this holiday season to hear a rollicking assortment of songs from classic animated Christmas movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Year Without a Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town?… and not just the title songs, but also other songs from these films, like "There's Always Tomorrow" and "Put One Foot in Front of Another"?… and a hilarious sketch in tribute to "The Aluminum Christmas Tree" of the 1960s?… and oh, by the way, John Rutter's Gloria thrown in?
The answer, of course, is at the annual holiday extravaganza from the Sacramento Gay Men's Chorus. This was their thirtieth anniversary holiday concert, and the group was celebrating not only the holidays but also the increased acceptance of LGBT members of the Sacramento community over those years.
The concert is being performed five times this season between December 5th and 9th in the First United Methodist Church in downtown Sacramento. I attended opening night, and the concert brightened up a wet, dreary week. MC Rob Stewart (of KVIE's Rob on the Road program) opened the proceedings with infectious enthusiasm.
Click here to open the concert program in a new window.
The hallmark of the group is their flamboyant and hilarious "choral-ography," taking familiar and unfamiliar songs over the top with broad physical comedy. The most outrageous examples at this concert were "Stomp the Halls," near the beginning of the program, and "It's Our Christmas Cheer," their encore. That's cheer, not as in mulled cider around the fireplace, but as in football cheerleaders with poofy pompoms prancing up the aisles as they made their exit.
The group's nine-man ensemble, Boy Howdy, was featured in several pieces, and I enjoyed each one. They put across some of the silliest and some of the most serious work of the evening, from "The Aluminum Christmas Tree" to "The Prayer of the Children."
The first half ended with two well-known serious pieces, Kurt Bestor's a cappella "Prayer of the Children," and John Rutter's Gloria, with full brass and keyboard accompaniment. The two pieces constitute a question and response. The children in the first song speak from a place of loss, fear, and dread, and ask Jesus to "let me see the morning light of one more day." Rutter's piece is a triumphant hymn of praise at the birth of the Savior.
Although these beautiful works were well worth hearing, they were a bit of a stretch for the SGMC musical forces. The simple, open chords of the prayer, sung by Boy Howdy, were poignant, but I heard some intonation problems.
The full chorus had a fine rich sound in the Gloria, and the brass accompaniment was stellar, but the texture was sometimes muddy. A male chorus cannot provide the full range and high soprano notes of a mixed chorus, and that's not their fault, of course. Still, I felt that this might not have been a good musical choice for the group.
The second half opened with a rousing rendition of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" by Patrick Van. Then came the "Gay-mation Holiday Special" written and directed by Neil Treganza. It was a tribute in music and skits to the animated holiday specials millions of us watched on television in the 60s and 70s. What a blast!
Singers and actors played out a story that provided continuity between the musical numbers. J. R. Fent and Corey Hubert were a hilarious Snow Miser and Heat Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus. Kay Hight, the group's accompanist, came up on stage to give a lovely solo in "There's Always Tomorrow" from Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.
Mr. Grinch turns out to be an ordinary-looking man named Steve (played by Nephi Speer). Steve is urged to give up being a grinch, find out who he really is, and celebrate his true nature. By the end of the skit Steve has discovered his true path, and has been transformed into the Snow Queen (played in drag by Dime-U-Neek St. James), who makes a show-stopping entrance.
The sing-alongs, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," and "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," made me feel that the audience had become an active part of the festivities.
For me, some of the best music of the evening came toward the end of the concert, one beautiful song after another. "Everything Possible" is an affirmation of respect for people's differences. "The Prayer," famous from performances by Katharine McFee, Andrea Bocelli, and others, was sung beautifully by Jason Pettit. "Silent Night" included a verse "sung" in perfect silence, while the chorus members conveyed the words in American Sign Language. "A Choral Fantasy" was a lively deconstruction of "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen." Finally there was "Christmas Cheer," the terrific encore I mentioned earlier.
I'll certainly be back again next year to discover what new delights these talented men will have for us.Winslow Rogers earned a Ph.D. in English Literature at Harvard and went on to a career as a professor, university administrator, and guest artist series producer. If you notice continuity between Win's writing style and that of editor Dick Frantzreb, it is doubtless due to the fact that he and Dick took the same Freshman English course at Amherst College fifty years ago