|Efraín Solis, Matt Boehler, Daniel McGrew, and Scott Murphree
In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, the wildly entertaining concert Manning the Canon: Songs of Gay Life was revived ten years after its debut at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. Just as we feel a little bit Irish on St. Paddy's Day, and a little bit Italian on Columbus Day, we feel a little bit "queer" this month.
It surely wasn't necessary to be a member of the tribe to appreciate the program. In the eloquent words of Steven Blier, taken from his copious and fascinating program notes, it is "a rainbow-colored celebration of wit, beauty, emotion, and forthright honesty". The concert is a co-production of Mr. Blier, Artistic Director of New York Festival of Song, and Jesse Blumberg, Artistic Director of Five Boroughs Music Festival--both champions in the world of song.
And what songs we heard! Sets of well-curated songs about gay life were interspersed with songs by gay composers. The songs were universal in appeal; we all have a wide palette of feelings about love and sex, longing and disappointment, closeness and distance.
Our favorites ranged the gamut, from hilarious cabaret songs to serious 19th c. compositions. Let us describe a few. As readers may have predicted, for our ears Schubert always comes out on top. The four members of the cast joined in exquisite harmony for Schubert's "Der Gondelfahrer", a setting of text by Johann Mayrhofer with whom the composer shared a bed for a couple of years. The lyrics scan and rhyme just the way we like and the melody took its cue from the text.
Walking on the wilder side, we loved the cabaret song "An Admission" by Joseph Thalken with funny and tender lyrics by Mark Campbell whose libretto for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs enchanted us so at Santa Fe Opera. The subject was the disappointment felt when one's prospective bedmate undresses and appears in all his naked inglorious glory. We are quite sure that everyone could relate to that one! Tenor Scott Murphree got all the feelings across, including the resolution at the end.
Drag offers so many opportunities for humor and John Wallowitch's cabaret song "Bruce" gave bass Matt Boehler an opportunity to use his loose-limbed frame, mobile face, and deeply resonant voice to portray a man criticizing Bruce's over-the-top style of dressing. The rhymes were beyond clever and Mr. Boehler did a swell job of getting the song across.
On the serious end of the spectrum, baritone Efraín Solis imbued Manuel de Falla's "Polo" with the requisite pain and just enough Latin sabor. Mr.Blier's insistent piano added to the drama.
There are songs that were written about a man and a woman that can be readily co-opted and placed firmly in the gay corner. Perhaps at the top of the list is Cy Coleman's "Tennis Duet" from City of Angels, for which David Zippel wrote the incredibly clever lyrics, filled with double entendres. Tenors David McGrew and Mr. Murphree made a marvelously flirtatious couple, sparring wittily with tennis rackets and provocative dialogue.
The program ended with Cole Porter's "You're the Top" in which the repetitive phrase "Baby, I'm the bottom you're the top" took on new meaning and was all the funnier for being played mostly straight by the ensemble. Porter's rhymes are hilarious and it was worthwhile to search out the lyrics to catch a few words and references we missed.
The encore was sensational--"My Guy", written by Smokey Robinson (of The Miracles). In true Motown fashion, there was plenty of extravagant synchronized gesture and terrific harmonies.
We are sure that every person in that room had their own favorites. Those were ours. We were there when the show had its debut at the same LGBT Community Center ten years ago and were happy to enjoy its warmth and wit once again. Indeed it remains a source of PRIDE for its creators and its cast.
(c) meche kroop