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Review: West Michigan Gay Men's Chorus

Underwriting support from:
The West Michigan Gay Men's Chorus.

The West Michigan Gay Men's Chorus. /

The East Grand Rapids High School theater is insanely luxurious. It might be one of the best performance stages in the area. And Saturday night, the 700-something capacity theatre was nearly full for the spring concert of the West Michigan Gay Men’s Chorus, their third public performance. I hadn’t seen the chorus before, and while I’m not the biggest fan of showtunes, they’d sold out the Wealthy Theatre at their last show, so somebody was doing something right.

The first half of the chorus featured a series of gay pride anthems that I’d never heard before (“Diversity”, “Here I Am,” “Are We Not Your Family?”) and hope never to hear again — songs written with the white-keys only. A projector lowered over the chorus and, with absolutely no sense of irony, proceeded to show pride flags and clip-art referencing hate crimes (Microsoft Paint scrawlings on school buses). The projections alone seriously subtracted from the point of the show, the performers themselves. The songs were heartfelt but uncreatively arranged, with a wall of melody echoed by the hammering piano, muddying the voices. In the era of "Glee," this kind of singing, I think, is bound for extinction or reboot.

The artistic director Marty Kiefer has worked for over 25 years as a church choral director and seemed to believe the show needed a sermon. In between songs, he delivered a saccharine homily about gay marriage, gay adoption, and being a middle-child. Who exactly did he think he was speaking to? I wanted more of a showman and host, akin to Corey Ruffin’s Mr. Happy Pants at the burlesque — someone to hustle the show along, put the work and songs in context, and throw attention onto the performers. Instead, Kiefer preached to the choir and the choir checked its watch.

The second half of the show was far more winning and light-hearted — I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like if the program had been flipped (or the first second half entirely). “Beauty School Dropout,” from Hairspray, had fun with simple staging, and the "South Pacific" standby “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” made terrific use of ridiculous army showers. Soloists emerged, like Christopher Curry who milked every instant of his spotlight to good effect and seemed to understand that we wanted some focus to the show. I was baffled as to why tenor Rob Reminga, the “singing lumberjack” who won the Grand Rapids' Got Talent competition this spring, was not given a chance to perform his winning song. I understand the chorus accepts all comers, and doesn’t audition, but when you’re expecting people to pay to see a performance (not a charity event), we’re there for excellence. Why not celebrate it?

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