San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus presents..
Unbreakable by Andrew Lippa
Nourse Theater, San Francisco, CA, June 23, 2018
SFGMC ends its 40th season in spectacular fashion with Andrew Lippa’s Unbreakable, a world premiere new musical revealing stories of the LGBTQ community through events and voices whose courage and struggle continue to inspire hope today. This is the second collaboration between the chorus and Tony Award-nominated Broadway composer Lippa (I Am Harvey Milk, The Addams Family, Big Fish, The Wild Party) and was commissioned by chorus member Eddie Reynolds as a tribute to his late husband Ed Jones. Unbreakable, like the chorus itself, is all-inclusive, multi-varied in its history and full of reflection, optimism and empowerment.
Lippa considers the piece “missionary work”, calling it “my musical tribute to the LGBTQ community — how we evolved, triumphed, suffered and soared. It’s also my lament for a world still full of bakers who won’t bake for us, lawmakers who won’t make for us and conservative minds who won’t wake for us.” Like the community it represents, the work combines a considerable group of talented artists: producer Bruce Cohen (Milk, American Beauty, Big Fish), TheatreWorks Artistic Director Robert Kelley, projections created by Andrew Lazarow, choreography by Steve Valdez, and orchestrations by Peter Seibert.
Under the direction of SFGMC Artistic Director Tim Seelig, the 250-member chorus and a chamber orchestra were joined by acclaimed soprano Lisa Vroman (Phantom of the Opera, Aspects of Love, A Most Happy Fella), Broadway’s Britney Coleman and rising tenor Marcus J. Paige, as well a Lippa himself. Unbreakable was presented as a solo piece to concentrate all attention on the rich history of the work.
Unbreakable begins its story at the turn of the 20th century with a movement based on Jane Addams (1860-1935), pioneer social worker, feminist, internationalist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and lesbian. A very young recruit in the Great War sings of his dreams and perhaps unfulfilled dreams in “Go To War”. The poignant, tragic story of Cyril B. Wilcox (suicide,1920) and the Harvard ‘Secret Court’ homosexual witch hunt is portrayed in “Already Dead’. Lippa sings “The Room Next Door”, the story of Kirk LeMoyne “Lem” Billings (1916 –1981), a gay confidante who sat at the side of JFK. “Sylvia” tells the empowering tale of transgender community activist Sylvia Rivera (1951 – 2002).
Part musical theater, part oratorio piece, Unbreakable is somber, compelling, powerful and uplifting. The SFGMC, the world’s oldest gay chorus, makes the piece seem effortless, flowing along with the ebb and flow of the score. The sum of the pieces, when all voices join in unison is a majestic and beautiful experience. In the hands of this experienced company, Unbreakable is given the grand premiere the piece rightly deserves.