Regional Reviews: Seattle
A Mildly Enjoyable Minding Our Manners Gets a Big Boost from Broadway
Also see David's review of Saucy Jack & The Space Vixens
The Seattle Men's Chorus spring event Minding Our Manners, featuring syndicated columnist Judith Martin in her "Miss Manners" persona was a mildly, enjoyable concert, but one that somehow lacked the extra spark that marks the best of this preeminent NW choral groups work. Happily, an abundance of Broadway Showtunes, including several from the Tony award winning Avenue Q was programmed, and presented in vocally fetching, and humorously staged renditions.
Kicking off with a jazzily syncopated rendition of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Getting to Know You", the chorus welcomed Judith Martin onstage for some lightly amusing responses to questions of etiquette, many of which featured a gay male or lesbian slant. Miss Manners is an awfully amusing, caustic writer, but displayed here a rather uncomfortable onstage presence. Simply put, she was not on a par with Armistead Maupin, Harvey Fierstein, and other past guests who have presided at past SMC events.
The chorus itself has two sub-groups, which step out from the main body of the ensemble. In this concert their efforts were a rather mixed bag of hits and missteps. Captain Smartypants, which performs a lot of bright, original, comic material specially created by SMC's Assistant Artistic Director Eric Lane Barnes & frequent chorus writer/arranger David Maddux, was at the top of its game throughout, with numbers like "-ish" (as in please arrive 7-ish), "Stonewall Serenade", and "For the Straight Guys". Less winning was the Ædonis ensemble's choral takes on the Cole Porter novelty numbers "Miss Otis Regrets" and "Thank You So Much Mrs. Lowsborough Goodsby" which sounded nice, but drained the humor out of the songs.
It required to more tunes from the Great White Way to really tip the show into the plus column. Kander & Ebb's Chicago standard "Class " was ideally utilized, and outfitted with some fitting additional lyrics to bridge some of the transitions in Act 1. The Avenue Q comedic numbers, "Schadenfreude" and "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" (kudos to the performers in full body paint for this routine) and its beguiling ballad "It's A Fine, Fine Line" (save an awkward off-pitch moment from one of its soloists) were well performed and well received, as wereartful renditions of Sondheim's "Marry Me A Little" and "Children Will Listen." The finale to "Make Our Garden Grow" from Bernstein and Wilbur's Candide was a joy to the ears, and a tug at the heartstrings.Certainly the full SMC Chorus always sounds super, especially in an acoustically friendly environment such as McCaw Hall (the redesign of the old Seattle Center Opera House), under the effortless musical direction of Artistic Director Dennis Coleman, with staunch support from Principal Accompanist Evan Stults. ASL Interpreter added his usual wit, flair & joie de vivre to the proceedings. It will be great fun to see what the combination of the SMC, the 5th Avenue Theatre, and leading ladies Faith Prince and Lucy Lawless (as Lorelei and Dorothy) yields in the upcoming May, in-concert production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the 5th Avenue. For information on that concert, and other upcoming events featuring Seattle Men's Chorus, visit them online at the website for their newly renamed umbrella organization, at www.flyinghouse.org. - David-Edward Hughes