By Jakob Cansler
This article was first published in DC Metro Theater Arts here.
I heard the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC sing “Underneath the Tree” by Kelly Clarkson twice during their Holiday Show. The second wasn’t planned, but it did speak to the chorus’s commitment to spreading joy through music during the holiday season.
The show was going great when, just five songs in, a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Noel” featuring soloist Cooper Westbrook was interrupted by a rather rude fire alarm, which sent the chorus, myself, and the rest of the audience outside temporarily.
Rather than bemoan the inconvenience, though, the chorus saw an opportunity. In the back parking lot on a chilly night, they reprised the opening number a capella — like a backlot version of Christmas carolers. How they sounded didn’t matter this time. It was a delightful moment — one of many at the Holiday Show.
An annual tradition, the Gay Men’s Chorus Holiday Show this year once again continued its theme of spreading warmth, joy, and love while uniquely celebrating the LGBTQ community.
Those themes were on display in exciting numbers like “Underneath the Tree” or “Sleigh Ride,” the latter of which featured a downright jolly set of tap-dancing reindeer choreographed by Danny Aldous.
Those performances set the tone for an all-around entertaining evening and a great way to ring in the holidays. From there, the chorus displayed an impressive variety of styles that showcased the depth of their talent.
Led by Artistic Director and Conductor Dr. Thea Kano, who has helmed the chorus since 2014, the ensemble’s vocal strengths were particularly on display in “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlefolk” and the aforementioned “Noel” (which Westbrook did get to restart and sounded just as good the second time). Perhaps most haunting, though, was Bilvavi, a beautifully performed song in Hebrew that demonstrated the strength of the ensemble.
The Seasons of Love ensemble also showed their chops with songs “Mary Sat a Rockin’” and “Joyful, Joyful.” The singers brought a passion and warmth that was infectious. The GenOUT Youth Chorus, meanwhile, performed a stirring “Los Pastores a Belén.”
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Gay Men’s Chorus show if it wasn’t, well, gay. “Bells, Bows, Gifts, Tree” — Todrick Hall’s holiday version of one of his ballroom hits — certainly fit that bill. Featuring choreography by Craig Cipollini and James Ellzy, who also choreographed many of the other songs, “Bells, Bows, Gifts, Trees” was a spectacle to behold. That number also featured the Chorus’ traditional Holiday Queens, who were literally dressed as Bells, Bows, Gifts, and Trees, as costumed by Jeffrey Hollands and Gary Turner.
In another tradition, the show featured multiple songs from the queer canon that had been hilariously spun to fit both an LGBTQ and holiday theme. That means “It’s Raining Men” became “It’s Snowing Elves,” sung by the Potomac Fever ensemble.
Later, “Holding Out for a Hero” got a Christmas twist in a show-stopping performance in which Santa is the hero of the song. Soloist Gabriel Lopez commanded the stage (and audience) in that song, which made for a great buildup to the finale.
“12 Rockin’ Days,” a high-spirited rendition of “Twelve Days of Christmas,” closed out the show, and it carried with it the overarching theme of the night: pure, unadulterated holiday spirit. Sometimes that meant over-the-top joy. Sometimes it meant a thoughtful, heartfelt note. Without a doubt, though, the entire time was a great way to ring in the holidays.