Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC took to the acoustically fabulous concert space at Live! at 10th and G on Saturday, October 26, 2019 to perform their “Small Ensembles Extravaganza.” Apart from the main chorus of over two hundred voices, GMCW boasts several smaller groups within the group including the classically influenced Rock Creek Singers, the a cappella Potomac Fever, the gospel influenced (and often a capella) Seasons of Love, and my personal favorite because I’m obsessed with their fantastic choreo and talent, 17th Street Dance.
A standout piece was “Heaven” by Bryan Adams because I could feel [Potomac Fever] pouring their hearts out into every lyric and it honestly made me cry.
The concert opened with a strong rendition of classic rock anthem “Carry On Wayward Son” performed collectively by all three vocal ensembles and Gabriel Lopez’s expressive tenor voice lent just the right touch to the hard-hitting passionate solo.
Rock Creek Singers instantly changed the mood but followed the theme with the quiet and still selection “That Lonesome Road” which echoed the phrase “carry on.” The choir’s excellent use of rests popped against their hushed dynamics. The pleading round “Would You Harbor Me?” made excellent use of varied dynamics to increase the dramatic tension of the piece and the dissonant ending was haunting. The choir ended with a masterful rendition of “Elijah Rock” which they held back for a very subdued beginning before unleashing into a full forte chorus which was a marvelous contrast. The intricate interplay of rhythms felt delightfully easy for the chorus and brought the audience to raucous applause.
17th Street Dance took the stage next for a sublimely choreographed and executed chorus line rendition of “These Are the Good Times.” I especially enjoyed when the dancers pulled together in a tight, elaborately composed group that seemed to glide across the stage. I apologize for not knowing the technical terms for it, dancers, but for the readers, it was like the bit in the song “Razzle Dazzle” from the movie “Chicago” when the dancing girls build a car out of their bodies around Billy which “drives” down the stage.
“Seasons of Love” showed off their magnificently blended voices, gorgeous harmonies, and excellent vocal balance in several powerful numbers. Soloist Michael Yarbrough stood out on “Grace in the Sun,” a mash-up of “House of the Rising Sun” and “Amazing Grace.” Yarbrough started off quite restrained but progressively let loose into soulful bluesy vocals that built in power on each successive verse.
17th Street Dance returned for a truly sultry and uniquely sizzling interpretation of “Holding Out for a Hero” in an unusual vocal arrangement by Nothing But Thieves and the combination of dance and vocals created a steamy mood.
Potomac Fever performed in Act Two and shared two heartbreaking stories of recent loss: a former and much beloved choir member passed away unexpectedly at age 54 to be followed in death two short weeks later by a current member aged 49. The singers shared beautiful tributes to both men and revealed that all of the songs they chose to sing tonight had been arranged by their recently fallen brother, Robert T. Boaz, or “Bobby T.”
It was truly one of the most loving and lovely memorial services that I have ever experienced. A standout piece was “Heaven” by Bryan Adams because I could feel the choir pouring their hearts out into every lyric and it honestly made me cry. And as I may have been surreptitiously glancing around the room, I can promise you that I wasn’t the only one with tears.
The choir then made us laugh out loud with Bobby’s arrangement of “Please Don’t Touch Me” from the Mel Brooks film “Young Frankenstein,” a truly empowering albeit ridiculously packaged song about consent. Soloist Michael B. Smith led the group adeptly in their silly romp and the choir’s choreography on this number was also fantastic. I loved that the group chose to showcase a complete picture of their friend, from humorous to heartfelt, and all deeply meaningful.
Rock Creek Singers returned for two final selections, the most stunning of which was a dramatic arrangement of “Nearer My God to Thee” featuring Latin classical singing underneath a powerful solo of the traditional hymn. So, I have to be honest. I have reviewed several concerts where Richard Bennett is a soloist and I always leave him completely out of the reviews because even though he is objectively a great singer, he is also my family member and I want to be ethical. But in this case, Rick: You got yourself a mention, honey.
17th Street Dance treated us to tight choreography and some killer feels on “Shaken” before all three vocal ensembles circled the audience for final number “True Colors.” Soloist Kevin Thomason did a superb job leading the well-beloved song and the effect of being surrounded by so many voices felt like being embraced in a giant hug. What a wonderful way to end a concert filled with songs of love, support, and encouragement.
“Small Ensembles Extravaganza” was a one-night event so I highly recommend that you attend an upcoming concert by Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, such as “The Holiday Show” in December.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission
“Small Ensembles Extravaganza” has finished its run. For more information on upcoming Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC concerts, including December’s “The Holiday Show”, as well as information on how to purchase “Make Them Hear You,” a new recording by Rock Creek Singers, click here.