San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus – Bridges
Davies Hall, San Francisco, California, March 29, 2018
Flush off the success of their groundbreaking Lavender Pen Tour of the deep South, our own national treasure, the SFGMC, triumphantly returned to a sold-out Davies Hall in an exhibition of highlights from that tour. An opening video montage displayed the major accomplishments that occurred; walking across the now famous Edmund Pettus Bridge, raising funds for dozens of deserving organizations, raising critical awareness of LGBTQ concerns and creating change that may affect hundreds of thousands of lives. We may take this chorus, now celebrating its 40th year, for granted, but imagine the power and magnificence being seen for the very first time in places where it was formerly considered impossible.
The themes of the tour and this spectacular evening were bravery, strength, inspiration and transformation. All were abundant right from the opener of Cindy Lauper’s “True Colours (Billy Steinberg / Tom Kelly) and “Brave” (Jack Antonoff / Sara Bareilles). There is an inherent majesty of hearing 300 voices in unison, elevating you into a sphere of the spiritual. The fluctuations in tones and volumes sweeps you along for the joyous ride. Case in point: “You Have More Friends Than You Know” (Mervyn Warren / Jeff Marx), a song about community and friendship. Dave Volpe’s arrangement creates inclusion through the power of the choruses unified sound.
Guest vocalist Holly Near sang “I Am Willing” and her appearance this evening could not have been any more profound. Near was there at the candlelight march for slain Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk, the same night the SFGMC first sang on the steps of City Hall. When she and the chorus sang her international anthem “Singing for Our Lives”, the heavy significance of the moment was not lost on her, the chorus and the audience.
Near was followed by guest composer Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed”, a poignant tribute to the senseless murders of seven black men. The known last words of each are set to music and the result is chilling, gut-wrenching, and heartbreaking. Injustice has long been a part of both the LGBTQ and African-American communities and the chorus recognizes that through music, we can ease the pain and create positive changes. The somber piece was followed by the gentle mantra of “Love Can Build a Bridge” (Naomi Judd / Paul Overstreet / John Jarvis).
Misa Malone, star of San Francisco’s Beach Blanket Babylon, rocked the self-affirming “This Is Me” (Benj Pasek / Justin Paul) from the soundtrack of The Greatest Showman, and Philip Whitely reprised his hilarious Patsy Cline impersonation on “She’s Got You” (Hank Cochran). Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig remarked comically that some people on the tour thought he was Patsy!
The tour of the South could not have been complete without the accompaniment of Oakland’s Interfaith Choirs: Youth, Community and the Gospel Choir. Singing the songs of Negro slaves and the spirituals that gave them hope, their set was moving, rousing and uplifting. The Youth Choir sang “I Just Wanna Be Happy” (Kirk Franklin), soloist Paul Daniels sang the spiritual “Soona Will Be Done” and Valeria Scott rang the emotions out of “Lawd, How Come Me Heah?” The SFGMC and the Gospel Choir combined on “Orphan of God’ (Joel Lindsey / Twila LeBar). The rousing closer of “Everybody’s Dancing” (Dr. Judith Christie McAllister) did just that; 2700 people rising in unison to join the heavenly mass of vocalists on stage. That is the powerful message of both the Lavender Pen Tour and this amazing evening.