Love is a Many-Splendored Thing

Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus; seen June 27, 2008

Love is possibly the most potent force outside Mother Nature that’s affected all of us one way or another, so this show’s title sums up the latest effort from the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus.  Using standards and medley selections from more recent Broadway musicals, a group of about 150 men in red or pink shirts underneath their black jackets sang what it meant to be in love.  David Evans was the ASL interpreter for the event.
              
Over the two-hour presentation, the chorus gave a straightforward rendition of “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”. Its directness made it all more powerful.  But the next song, “With You,” from the musical Pippin, made it painfully clear how some musical conventions don’t work very well in ASL.  In music, it’s acceptable to repeat certain phrases with varied inflections, but even an interpreter as sublime as Evans could not make the repetitive lyrics by Stephen Swartz more visually interesting.  As tender as the chorus’s rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me” was, Mr. Evans’s ASL translation of this particular song was brilliant for his invocation of Deaf cultural conventions through the lyrics even though the piece had nothing to do with Deaf culture.  He was able to make the song relevant to the Deaf audience members.
              
The fourth song, “Endless Love,” written by Lionel Ritchie and made a huge hit by him and Diana Ross more than two decades ago, was given a humorous treatment by Vincent Doyle, who played the (ahem) straight man to Rob Anderson’s overweight and badly made-up bride engorging herself on a bouquet filled with Twinkies.  The spectacle naturally drew a lot of chuckles, but my companion who is not thin did not laugh.  This made me realize how fat stereotypes, used as an excuse for easy humor, might offend people struggling with weight problems.
              
In spite of my limited hearing, I was pleased that the men’s voices were quite clear, especially in William Finn’s “What More Can I Say?” from his musical Falsettoland and Irving Berlin’s How Deep is the Ocean.  Charlie Clayton’s baritone was lovely and understated, yet with just enough emotion to convey the essential truth of the song.
              
The too-similar pace of the next two songs–Marvin Hamlisch, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman’s “The Last Time I Felt Like This,” and Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster’s “Secret Love”–began to drag down the rest of the show’s first half. With a quartet of short selections from the Broadway hit musical Miss Saigon and a trio of selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals (Aspects of Love, Variations and Jesus Christ Superstar), Mr. Evans pointed out which instruments were being played and cued the start of each short selection as well as which sung lines from different sections of the chorus were superimposed on each other.  This proved most helpful to Deaf listeners who might have had difficulty in picking out such notes and the seeming mayhem from a wall of voices.  The show’s instrumentalists included a pair of violins, a viola, and a cello.
              
David Baerwald’s “Come What May” from the film Moulin Rouge was given a sweet rendition.  After the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus gave Ann DeGroot, the former OutFront Minnesota Executive Director, their first-ever Legacy Award for her local, state and national-level activist contributions to the GLBT community, the show resumed with Jason Bernhagen’s pithy tenor contribution to “I Know Him So Well” from Benny Andersson, Tim Rice, and Björn Ulvaeus musical Chess. Highlights of the second half included a tender but campy duet by the tenors Chris Mellin and Kelsey Bruso, which struck me as something that Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as TV’s Odd Couple would’ve done if they sang in a choir. The show concluded with a pas de deux featuring the ballet dancers Justin Leaf and David Schmidt, who explored the intimacy of falling in love with their choreography, while the chorus sang a medley of three songs.
              
Prior to the show, I noticed that the wheelchair-accessible elevators were quite close to the entrance to the Ted Mann Hall.  That is always a good sign, but the location of seats reserved for ASL users was inappropriate.  The first few rows on the right on the orchestra level had been set aside for ASL patrons, but the interpreter’s placement further right on the stage meant that ASL patrons would’ve had to twist their heads constantly just to absorb the sight of men singing or the interpreter translating.  As a result, the ASL patrons took the initiative of moving from their reserved section to the unfilled seats half a flight up on the far right.  This enabled the Deaf viewers to partake both Evans’s work and the chorus visually without the possibility of suffering from neck whiplash.  The Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus should look into reserving this part of the theater for ASL patrons for future shows.  Incidentally, I’ve noticed that their DVD featuring their acclaimed show Through a Glass, Darkly, showed the CC symbol for closed-captioning. That was a nice surprise because most independent DVDs do not take the time to provide such accessibility to Deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers.
              
That said, it is always a powerful experience to hear that many men sing as one, sometimes counter pointing each other, and this show was of no exception.  I only wish the selections varied more in tempo for the show’s overall rhythm.

Editor’s note: Access Press is pleased to have author and playwright Raymond Luczak as a regular theater reviewer. Mr. Luczak www.raymondluczak.com will be reviewing an ASL-interpreted plays the heading “From the front row.”