Regional Reviews: Seattle
The Seattle Men's Chorus Goes
June is always busting out all over with Gay pride in Seattle, and the Seattle Men's Chorus annual summer concert is a mainstay activity that draws big crowds. This past weekend's Out on Broadway was no exception, judging by the near capacity crowd at Seattle Center's handsome McCaw Hall on Friday night.
Out on Broadway was a collaborative presentation with the NYC Gay Men's Chorus, who presented largely the same program earlier last week. This celebration of gay Broadway composers, lyricists and gay-themed musicals and characters was framed by a running narrative written by celebrated playwright Terrence McNally, and narrated by the very talented Barbra Streisand impersonator, Steven Brinberg.
Unfortunately, while the musical selections were pretty much ideal, McNally's running commentary seemed oddly stilted at times and took for granted that a lot of the audience would be more familiar with the gay background of the gay lifestyles of such writers as Coward, Hart, and Sondheim than they in fact were. And Brinberg (who even Streisand has hired to play Streisand to fool guests at a party) seemed ill at ease and under-rehearsed when he wasn't singing the diva's songs. Near the end of act one, "Simply Barbra" wandered offstage, forgetting there was still more narrative to go, but to the credit of SMC artistic director Dennis Coleman and company, they jumped right onto the next number.
Still, the rich and varied voices of the SMC chorus and the Broadway tunes offered much enjoyment. After a smooth, well-crafted and impeccably selected Alex Rybeck arranged overture (something this writer really misses at most present day Broadway musicals), it was curtains up on a zesty opening to "Showtune" by Jerry Herman (an early version of what became "It's Today!" in Herman's Mame) and Berlin's undying anthem "There's No Business Like Show Business." Earlier Broadway eras were evoked with a humorously staged version of Porter's "Find Me A Primitive Man" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," and a stylish and reflective take on Coward's "Mad About The Boy." Brinberg perfectly evoked Streisand's sotto voce version of "It Takes A Woman" from Hello, Dolly! which led into a smartly crafted set including "Before the Parade Passes By," "Don't Rain on My Parade," "If He Walked Into My Life" and "Cell Block Tango."
The act one finale was indeed the highpoint of the entire concert, using two Broadway songs entitled "Keep It Gay" (one from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Me and Juliet, the other more familiar version from The Producers) to spotlight the hilarious "If You Were Gay" from Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx's justly Tony awarded Avenue Q. Lopez and Marx in fact need look no further for future Rod and Nicky replacements than SMC members Michael Salmon and Sam Calandra who perfectly voiced the characters while ably manipulating the larger than Q size versions of Rod and Nicky.
After a decent opening medley built around gay marriage, the second act got a real lift from more Herman tunes, namely "A Little More Mascara", "We Are What We Are" and "I Am What I Am" (a potent solo by Dan Austin). The schism between Herman's old-style Broadway and the new era of Broadway composer/lyricists was pointed up by following this set with two songs from the late Jonathan Larson's Rent score, which, though well performed by the chorus members, felt out of keeping with the rest of the evening's program. Another fairly recent, yet more conventionally scored show, McNally, Kander and Ebb's Kiss of the Spider Woman, yielded a poignant moment with its seldom performed heart-tugger "You Could Never Shame Me." Brinberg received his warmest applause of the evening for his spot on rendering of Jule Styne and Bob Merrill's People, but I couldn't help wishing he had also been allowed to have his way with Babs' version of "On A Clear Day" as well. The oddest omission of the program was not including something from the current - born in Seattle - Broadway smash Hairspray. Given that "You Can't Stop The Beat" was included in the NYC tunestack, it made little sense for it to be absent from the show, especially given Hairspray's gay authorship and gay friendly content.
A lot of what didn't play well in McNally's script may have been just too inside New York for Seattle audiences, and doubtless, Gotham audiences would also have had a familiarity with Brinberg as Babs that our audiences couldn't have. By and large however, it was a fitting evening of song and frolic for this finely tuned Northwest musical ensemble, celebrating its 25th anniversary season.
For information on upcoming Seattle Men's Chorus concerts and related events log on to the SMC web site at www.seattlemenschorus.org.- David-Edward Hughes