It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (just read my past reviews) and for good reason – their technically flawless vocals blend with humor and poignancy time and again to create deeply memorable performances that elicit strong emotions from their audiences that linger in the days to come.
… soloist Adrián González poured his heart and soul into “Am I Welcome Here?”
But as much as I am an admirer, I also am a reviewer and as such have the responsibility to reflect back to the chorus when there is room for improvement, and the 2018 version of “The Holiday Show,” which I attended this past Saturday evening was perfectly nice, but left me feeling a bit flat. I have come to expect a lot from the GMCW beyond technical perfection, which they still have in abundance.
However, what has made GMCW a truly outstanding ensemble has not been mere musicality but the powerful emotional experiences that they provide by harnessing their talent into the right song at the right moment in a carefully programmed concert, partnered with the right soloist or dance or spoken introduction. On the other side of the coin, they also have excelled at balancing the deep emotions with songs that are not just funny, but pure over-the-top camp that have us bust a gut laughing after we’ve cried our eyes out – and without feeling disrespectful to the previous emotion.
It’s a tall order to produce not just a single powerful song but a carefully curated concert that feels like a complete journey and this year’s show felt, well, ordinary. I didn’t get any sense of an overall theme for the concert and instead felt I was presented with a random assortment of holiday songs with no underlying connection.
In and of themselves, the songs were lovely. There were many traditional carols interspersed with a few classical numbers and Hanukkah songs but the order seemed haphazard. There were a few silly songs, but for the most part they lacked the exuberant camp that I’ve come to expect and in some cases I felt that the choreography for them overshadowed the chorus (for example in “Silver Bears” and “Puttin’ on the Holiday Drag”) whereas in other years the pantomime and chorus supported each other in true collaboration.
Was it hilarious to see Silver Bears parading onto stage? Yes, absolutely, and they hammed it up to perfection. But the audience’s constant applause for each new bear drowned out the chorus’s singing and I missed much of the song. Also, the audience seemed to fade in their enthusiasm for clapping after four or five bears had come out but the parade continued to around fifteen or twenty men, to the audience’s ever-waning applause.
Did I love seeing the queens’ elaborate costumes? So much so that I wanted to rush to the fabric store in envy! But, I couldn’t tell you much about the song. Was “Favorite One” the ever-faithful crowd-pleasing favorite? It was, but it seemed a bit less enthusiastic (and quick) than previous years. Did I cry my eyes out to any numbers? Not this year, no,although speaker Romm Gatongay did make me tear up with his Marine Corps pride as he recognized members of the armed services who were present.
However, will you enjoy the concert if you go? Yes, you absolutely will. It’s still a beautifully done presentation of popular, fun, or downright ethereal holiday songs. Especially noteworthy are soloist Ben Harris in “What Child is This?” His rich voice had the timbre of the accompanying cello played by Tommie Adams and the interplay between the two instruments was gorgeous.
17th Street Dance, although they tapped to“Jingle Bells” which they have done in concerts past, appeared to have significantly increased the difficulty of their routine from last year as well as added new choreography and it was a stellar highlight of the evening. And honestly, I don’t have a problem with repeated numbers from year to year (see: “Favorite One”) if they’re done this well and fit into the overall concept of the concert.
The creativity of a cappella group Potomac Fever’s mashup of “12 Days of Christmas/Africa” was hilarious and done with true sophistication and talent. Also, soloist Adrián González poured his heart and soul into “Am I Welcome Here?” and the bit of choreography at the end that the entire chorus participated in was really touching.
There may not have been as many surprises, laughs, or tears this year as in the past, but I still recommend “The Holiday Show” by Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC under the direction of Dr. Thea Kano as a very enjoyable and well done holiday concert and I am full of hope that GMCW can regroup and send out a more deliberate and powerful message with future programs as they have done so very well in the past.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.
“The Holiday Show” by Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC under the direction of Dr. Thea Kano runs through December 16, 2018 at Lincoln Theatre. For more information, click here.