By now, you have likely seen a song performed by a “virtual choir,” a group of singers who recorded his/her/their part as a solo video, then a technical person edited the sound and video together to make a “choir.” Music is an art form that happens in time. And unlike a painting that hangs on a wall, music performance is the opposite of static. It happens on a direct timeline, and then is over. Those of us who enjoy the choral arts love this authenticity of those moments. However, the coronavirus pandemic has not been kind to choirs, and of course has changed the landscape for all performing arts groups.
Recently, studies have been conducted by University College London (UCL) in partnership with composer Eric Whitacre and Music Productions to explore how singing in a virtual choir delivers significant psychological benefits, such as preventing feelings of social isolation and promoting a sense of connection to others. Additionally, choirs have shown ingenuity in their ability to handle a new era, if you will, of putting together technology and voices so that their audiences can hear them still.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW), under the direction of Thea Kano, proves that example with their recent virtual performance of Genderosity, a glam rock spectacle that was originally meant to be performed live at Lincoln Theatre before the pandemic took hold. The virtual performance features the 17th Street Dance Company, and the choral and dance ensembles strive to convey the message of pride and acceptance.
The show opens with “My Strongest Suit,” from Aida, with soloist Samuel Brinton, framed by some fabulous outfits from the ensemble. One of my particular favorites is “Changes”— the David Bowie classic. Soloist Brian Duckworth’s wonderful, smooth voice soared over a lovely, simple visual of the ensemble choir behind him. Another powerful moment in the show—”The Village,” written by Stephen Wrabel—was released in the wake of the transgender military ban. Rick Bennett’s solo beautifully portrays the emotion of the lyrics, backed by the choral ensemble. The 17th Street Dance Street Company’s moving performance is in a field captured by drone cameras—a first for the group.
“A Little More Mascara” from La Cage Au Follies takes the viewer on a fun and marvelous musical and visual journey from the first vision of makeup to full drag in all its glory, with Todd Paul, Chuck Willet, and Ryan Williams harmonizing brilliantly.
The GenOut Youth Chorus and Director C. Paul Heins incorporated a performance of “No Mirrors in My Nana’s House,” written by Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Dr. Ysaÿe M. Barnwell. This was a performance from February of 2020, in conjunction with The Children’s Chorus of Washington for the 2020 Youth Invasion Concert. While the song is more on the topic of racial injustice, GenOut performs an inspiring rendition with the preface by its members to become powerful agents of positive change.
Genderosity ends with a very moving and sweet rendition from the entire choir of “Home,” from The Wiz. There’s a message here too, of belonging, of course. However, GMCW delivers all of these musical numbers with no preachiness or overdone agenda; it’s good music with talented people, period.
The staging, camera work, and even transition effects are all stellar. This talented ensemble never disappoints in their performances, virtual or otherwise.
Running Time: 75 minutes.
Genderosity streams through March 28, 2021. Tickets are available for purchase online. After placing your ticket order, you will receive an email with a link to watch the concert at your convenience during that period. One ticket allows viewing on one device.
Genderosity Song List, Cast, and Credits
“My Strongest Suit” | Written by Elton John and Tim Rice
Soloist: Samuel Brinton
“Changes” | Written by David Bowie | Arranged by Tim Sarsany
Soloist: Brian Duckworth
“Video” | Written by Reginald Hargie, Carlos Broady, India.Arie, and Shannon Sanders Soloist: Kevin Watts
“The Village” | Written by Stephen Wrabel
Soloist: Rick Bennett
“Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” | Written by Shania Twain and R. J. Lange
Soloist: Shawn Morris
Dancers: Abel Jimenez and Michael McGovern
“Born This Way” | Written by Stefani Germanotta, Jeppe Laursen, Paul Blair, and Fernando Garibay | Arranged by Tim Sarsany
“Vogue” | Written by Madonna Cicone, Stephen Bray, and Shep Pettibone | Arranged by Tim Sarsany
“How Do You Sleep?” | Written and recorded by Sam Smith
Concept by JJ Vera
Dancers: Tommie Adams, Jamie Hillis, Colin Muth, Clint Novotny, Sophia Pizzi, JJ Vera, Kevin Watts
“A Little More Mascara” (from La Cage aux Folles) | Written by Jerry Herman
Soloists: Todd Paul, Chuck Willett, Ryan Williams
“No Mirrors in My Nana’s House” | Written by Ysaÿe M. Barnwell
GenOUT Youth Chorus
“Dancing Queen” | Written by Benny Andersson, Björn Alvaeus, and Stig Anderson | Arranged by David Maddux
“When I Was a Boy” | Written by Dar Williams
Soloist: Keygan Miller
Guitar: Kimberly Spath
“I Can Change” | Written by Rachael Price, Mike Olson, Bridget Kearney, and Michael Calabrese
Soloist: Thomas Reiker
Dancers: Abel Jimenez and Michael McGovern
“Home” (from The Wiz) | Written by Charlie Smalls
Direction by Thea Kano
Associate Conductor: C. Paul Heins
Assistant Conductor: Joshua Sommerville
Choreography: Craig Cipollini and James Ellzy
ASL Interpretation: Jamie Sycamore
Art Direction: Craig Cipollini
Musicians: Theodore Guerrant, C. Paul Heins, Thea Kano, Alex Tang, Kimberly Spath
Costume and Makeup Coordinator: Emérito Amaro-Carambot
Costumes and Makeup: Andrew Casasanta, Jeffrey Hollands, Neil Offner
Scene Shop Manager and Lighting: Jarrod Bennett
Videographers: Craig Cipollini, Michael Dumlao, Daniel Vojt
Video Editing: Arts Laureate, Craig Cipollini, Michael Dumlao, Michael B. SmithSEE
Gay Men’s Chorus celebrates Sondheim in stellar quarantine cabaret review by Darby DeJarnette
‘TransAmerica’ at Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC review by John Stoltenberg