The focus of this year's Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus Pride concert, "We Are Family," was a decidedly mixed bag. The program, heard Saturday night at Ted Mann Concert Hall, was designed as a celebration. And there was much to celebrate. Marriage equality has become legal in Minnesota and the Supreme Court has expanded marriage rights nationally.
But a celebration of this magnitude deserved a better overall performance than the chorus delivered.
The evening got off to a bad start with a bombastic anthem, "Shake the Rafters." It was formal and staid, with little musical value except to show off the 120-voice chorus' ability to produce an undifferentiated wall of sound and to sing complex harmonies. This was one of several numbers that felt self-indulgent.
The performance was often hindered by the choice of unflattering arrangements, like for Carly Simon's "Let the River Run" and "Defying Gravity" from "Wicked." They overcomplicated the simple melodies. But in these cases, the chorus sang with enough rousing energy to sell the songs.
"Over the Rainbow" was a disaster. Accompanied by a ukulele, it was a stylistically inappropriate throwback to the psychedelic '60s.
Two highlights demonstrated the gay passion that the chorus is known for. James St. Juniors, Jr. sang the soul out of "I Will Survive" (with the chorus as his backup singers), outdoing even Gloria Gaynor. And David Bryce sang the first verse of "I Am What I Am" (before the chorus took over). His singing evoked decades of pride.
The chorus had its moments. "Shenandoah" and Robert Seeley's "Marry Us" were both poignant, deeply felt numbers. But those performances were few and far between.
More disturbing was the performance of ABBA's "Dancing Queen." The choreography (hand gestures from the chorus and four solo dancers) was so sloppy and uncoordinated that it looked like a bad high-school variety show. This should have been an embarrassment for an organization that aspires to be (and frequently has been) a professional ensemble.
This was the first concert I'd heard under new artistic director, Dr. Ben Riggs, and it marked a major step backward for TCGMC. What a disappointment.
William Randall Beard writes about music.