Los Angeles Music Preview: I AM HARVEY MILK and CITY OF ANGELS: GMCLA’s 35th Anniversary Concert (Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on July 14, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles,Uncategorized


In 1978, on the night of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone’s assassinations, an unprecedented candlelight march brought mourners to San Francisco’s City Hall. The newly formed San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus canceled a rehearsal for their upcoming debut concert and opted to perform at the makeshift memorial service. It was there on the steps of City Hall that the world’s first openly gay chorus sang in public for the first time. 35 years later, SFGMC, along with the Gay Men’s Chorus of GMCLA's I AM HARVEY MILK, part of its 35th anniversary concert.Los Angeles (GMCLA) and five more gay men’s choruses, commissioned I Am Harvey Milk, Andrew Lippa’s 12-piece song cycle and tribute to the slain supervisor.

I Am Harvey Milk is an oratorio—that which is defined as a dramatic but unstaged musical composition for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, based on a religious theme. The religion in this case is the spiritual awakening of a long-repressed community, and Lippa’s music is as diverse as the citizens therein. I happened to witness the World Premiere last year in S.F., and I promise you that this rousing and thrilling work is a staggering and immediately accessible triumph which bristles the senses and proves to be the best work yet from Lippa, best-known as composer and lyricist of The Wild Party, The Addams Family, and Big Fish.

TURNING 35 AND STILL FABULOUSA year after SFGMC formed, 99 men responded to posted flyers (remember those?) and showed up at Plummer Park to form GMCLA. For its 35th anniversary, this world-class chorus will present Lippa’s stunning work for two performances only on July 19 & 20. Alongside a 25-piece orchestra, acoustical perfection will join musical magic when choral communities from seven other cities will appear at Disney Hall to create a combined powerhouse performance featuring over 500 voices.

Yet Milk is only half of the event. The first act, City of Angels, will be a larger-than-life festivity of GMCLA’s 35th anniversary. You’ll hear everything from original commissions, re-interpreted pop hits, contemporary interpretations of classics, and more—all with that unmistakable, unapologetic, and undeniable GMCLA flair. “We’re gonna blow your socks off,” they promise. “But you can pick them up at intermission!”

Instead of a biographical retelling, the 60-minute I Am Harvey Milk takes pieces of Milk’s life and turns them into songs both general and personal. It’s remarkable how original these songs are, given they can be reminiscent of Broadway luminaries such as Schwartz and Kander (although the tunes are never derivative).

quinn-morrissey-webThe opening number, a prelude in which the Young Harvey (to be sung by Quinn Morrissey) sees his life as “An Operatic Masterpiece,” is emotionally stirring, haunting, and memorable—you will want to hear it over and over again. The 11 remaining songs are subtitled for each of Milk’s last 11 months in 1978, each with a heading that begins “I AM” (I AM THE SUPERVISOR, I AM THE MOMENT, et al). The unchronological order of songs makes sense musically.

The threatening and melancholic choral work “Sticks and Stones” validates how name-calling can feel like a physical attack, a seeming triviality but an impetus for the gay rights movement. “San Francisco” is a paean to the city which is not just a healing force for broken-spirited émigrés but a soul mate as well. Remarkably, one of the most triumphant sections is “Friday Night in the Castro,” a perfect pastiche of the Paul Jabara-esque 70s disco that blared during Milk’s rise to power.

Andrew Lippa himself will portray Milk, and his strong Broadway chops will be heard in “Lavender Pen,” a joyous ode to Moscone’s signing of the first gay rights bill; the bouncy “You Are Here,” a celebratory and triumphant acknowledgement of Andrew-Lippa-performs-in-the-world-premiere-of-I-AM-HARVEY-MILK-part-of-the-San-Francisco-Gay-Men’s-Chorus-HARVEY-MILK-2013.Milk’s win for a supervisorial seat; and the exhilarating finale “Tired of the Silence,” which uses an actual speech of Milk’s in which he announced that the best road to freedom was to come out of the closet.

Alexandra Silber (who is luminous as Maria on San Francisco Symphony’s concert version CD of West Side Story) plays the “soprano,” and her rich, dramatic, silvery voice will offer, among others, a Sondheim-esque psychological exploration of a mother who initially rejected her child’s difference in “Was I Wrong?”

The oratorio will be semi-staged, as it was in S.F., by Noah Himmelstein, and conducted by GMCLA Artistic Director Joe Nadeau. This emotional celebration of a true American icon isn’t just for gay folk, so everybody can come out to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles…as well as the participating choruses: Twin Cities, Heartland, Gateway, Dayton, Denver, and of course, San Francisco.

Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles
35th Anniversary Concert
City of Angels and I am Harvey Milk
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Ave.
Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 8:00 pm
Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 3:00 pm
for tickets, call 424.239.6506 or visit GMCLA

{ 1 comment }

Lucy L Hirsch July 19, 2014 at 6:08 am

My son was a GMCLA member and will sing in this concert, I wish I could be there! It will be a fantastic time for all of you. As the Mother of a gay son, I have always known, always loved him and supported everything he does, with all the love I have in my heart and soul. Congratulations on 35 wonderful years. Sing! Know you are special to me, and so is my son and his partner! They are kind, caring and loving… they are so good to me, while I walk this journey with my husband, who has dementia! Otherwise I would be there.
With love to GMCLA…. Lucy

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