Artistic Director and conductor Thea Kano nailed it in her opening remarks when she warned the packed house at the Lincoln Theatre to expect “lots of sparkle,” as over 150 of the 250-plus singing members of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington donned their silver scarves and black formal attire to deliver over a dozen classics in their musical tribute Whitney.
But what made the evening special was the over-the-top dance numbers by the 17th Street Dancers and the poignant monologues and personal stories of how Whitney Houston’s spirit touched the lives of so many members of the LGBTQ community in their formative years.
“She was one of us!” declared the highly fashionable Michael Dumlao in his red lipstick and retro Kramer one-shoulder ruffled bolero top! The reference was to Robyn Crawford, who was Whitney Houston’s childhood friend and confidant who became her assistant, creative director, and partner early in her career. They were also lovers.
The entire evening was an unabashed fashion statement from the first number, ”I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” when six pink and multicolored legginged members of the 17th Street Dancers revved up the energy in the house and set the tone for the evening.
Enough cannot be said of the choreography team led by Dance Captain James Ellzy II and Danny Aldous and Craig Cipollini, not to mention the detailed costume design by Jeffrey Hollands and Gary Turner, which included rainbow-colored laces in the black Converse Al Star sneakers worn by the Potomac Fever during their spirited rendition of “I’m Every Woman”!
Soloists Gabriel Lopez, Dana Nearing, Ryan Smith, and Joval Martin got up close and personal as Set Designer Jarrod Bennett and Bernard Vicary used every inch of the expansive Lincoln Theatre stage to take the singers to the edge of the orchestra seats where you could feel their energy and flamboyant muscle-shirt fashion on full display.
Speaker Drew Hastie shared the most personal moment of the show when he recounted his story of turning his back on a career in medicine, which filled his life with anxiety and depression, and embodied the lyrics of “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength”:
And I crashed down, and I tumbled
But I did not crumble
I got through all the pain
Things got “So Emotional” as the Gay Men’s Chorus dropped red rose petals and 17th Street Dance rocked the stage again with their black muscle shirts and blue jeans and had the crowd singing along in unison.
Kevin Thomas shared his personal courageous coming-out moment as a young teenager who dared to buy a $20 ticket to a Whitney concert and travel from redneck rural Georgia to Atlanta to see his idol, who shocked him when she emerged from the audience and touched his shoulder on the way to the stage. He was then joined by Potomac Fever and rocked a very feminist version of “I’m Every Woman.”
The Chorus took the theater to church with a “Seasons of Love” medley that included an outstanding dance solo in white by James Ellzy during the “I Love the Lord” as soloists Freddie Quimbley, Donald Medor, and Gabriel Lopez added some church falsettos that paid tribute to Whitney’s best-selling gospel soundtrack from her 1996 movie, The Preacher’s Wife.
But before the Chorus closed out the show with “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” a special message was delivered by Victor, a young tenor from the GenOUT Youth Chorus, who encouraged the audience to “embrace your vulnerability as boldly as you can because diversity is required for harmony.”
Victor was preaching to the choir with his impassioned message of acceptance. The stage filled with dancers including Jazzmin St. James D’Monaco in fishnet drag as the Gay Men’s Chorus took their final bow during the encore closeout renditions of “Babyface” Edmonds and “L. A.” Reid’s arrangement of “I’m Your Baby Tonight.” Then the raucous crowd spilled out through the lobby onto U Street with a collective smile on their face.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.
The program for Whitney, including credits and song list, is online here.