The pandemic has caused many arts organizations to search for creative ways to bring their talent to fans. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC has jumped into the fray with Losing My Mind: A Celebration of Sondheim—their fun and creative contribution to the brave new world of online quarantine cabarets. Directed by Thea Kano and featuring accompaniment by Alex Tang and Jeff Hamlin, this cabaret brings over twenty talented soloists from the choir to the virtual stage to share their gifts.
And what better artist to highlight than Sondheim? With his frequent exploration of the themes of interpersonal alienation and strife, Sondheim musicals provide a fertile ground of material for the singers to work with in this time of pandemic and social unrest. Each of the performers did a stellar job leaning into these themes.
The technological limitations of singing remotely in no way limited the boundless energy that the GMCW brings to each performance.
The cabaret opened with Abel Jimenez’s sultry take on “Losing My Mind.” We are then treated to some love for Evening Primrose with Alex Tyson’s rendition of “Take Me to the World.” We get our first duet with Gabriel Lopez and Rinaldo Martinez’s “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George. Lopez and Martinez outdo themselves for this number. You would think that the “split screen” effect might be awkward, but in some ways the ability to see the expressions on the singer’s faces lends and endearing quality to the duets in the cabaret.
One of the benefits of the cabaret format is also the ability to allow the performers to preface their songs with anecdotes and personal stories. The GMCW took advantage of their singers’ very colorful histories and experiences by allowing them this opportunity for this virtual cabaret. Kevin Thomason’s hilarious retelling of his experience as a young gay teen in Georgia was the perfect lead-in to “The Ladies Who Lunch.” Keygan Miller’s story of being typecast as a queer teen was, I imagine, relatable to many. Personally, their performance of “Giants in the Sky” from Into the Woods was much more impactful because of their honesty in sharing their experiences.
Another benefit of the virtual cabaret is the ability to “stage” the numbers in a way that plays to the strengths of the format. Matt Holland’s performance (also featuring Keegan Kienzle and Rinaldo Martinez) of “(Not) Getting Married Today” from Company benefitted particularly from the format. The performance couldn’t have happened in quite the same way had they been performing live. As it was, it showed how creative the GMCW is in adapting to the circumstance.
“Another Hundred People” was another one of those numbers where the personal history of the singer gave the material a little something extra. Javon Morris-Byam’s voice reminds us that there were once hundreds of people just existing out on the streets with no concerns about a pandemic. Brian Duckworth’s powerful voice was not at all wasted on “Johanna” from Sweeney Todd. This was one of my favorite performances of the cabaret and, for me, cements the reality that the GMCW has some of the best performers in town in its ranks.
Last, but not least, the GMCW tackled the “virtual choir” format with “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods. This number utilized all of the previous performers—and it came together seamlessly. This song echoes the perfect sentiments to end with during this historic time, shared in a truly unique way by the historic Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.
We’d be here all day if I gave a summary of every performance—each of which were fantastic and had their own strengths. Here is a list of all the songs that were included in this cabaret:
“Losing My Mind” – Abel Jimenez (from Follies)
“Take Me to the World” – Alex Tyson (from Evening Primrose)
“Move On” – Gabriel Lopez and Rinaldo Martinez (from Sunday in the Park with George)
“Finishing the Hat” – Cory Claussen (from Sunday in the Park with George)
“The Ladies Who Lunch” – Kevin Thomason (from Company)
“Marry Me A Little” – Michael McGovern (from Company)
“Giants in the Sky” Keygan Miller (from Into the Woods)
“I Remember” – Dean Reichard (from Evening Primrose)
“In Buddy’s Eyes” – JJ Vera (from Follies)
“(Not) Getting Married Today” – Matt Holland, Keegan Kienzle, and Rinaldo Martinez (from Company)
“Being Alive” – Jahtay Teh (from Company)
“Leave You” – Brad Rinaldo (from Follies)
“More” – Guy Bosworth (from Dick Tracy)
“Another Hundred People” – Javon Morris-Byam (from Company)
“The Miller’s Son” – Jamie Hillis (from A Little Night Music)
“Somewhere” – Michael Dumlao (from West Side Story)
“Not While I’m Around” – Jarrod Bennett (from Sweeney Todd)
“The Little Things You Do Together” – Jonathan Chaffin and Keegan Kienzle (from Company)
“No More” – Michael B. Smith (from Into the Woods)
“Johanna” – Brian Duckworth (from Sweeney Todd)
“Children Will Listen” – Full Cast (from Into The Woods)
Running time: One hour and fifty minutes, with no intermission.
Losing My Mind: A Celebration of Sondheim streamed on October 17, 2020. Information about making a donation to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC during this challenging time can also be found online.