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Dudes of the decade
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s spring mainstage offering Love Is All You Need: A 1960s Extravaganza, performed last weekend at GWU’s Lisner Auditorium, gave the group plenty of room to do more than just make music. Dancing, acting, multimedia — all were employed in full force to hearken back to one of the most distinctive decades in the American experience.
After getting off to a psychedelic start with “Aquarius” from Hair, lightheartedness ruled Love Is All You Need‘s first act, with lively, extensive recreations of moments from the landmark TV hit Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In interspersed with musical sequences devoted to ’60s “boy sounds” (think “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry”), The Beatles, folk music and ’60s dance hits such as “The Twist” and “The Locomotion.”
Musicianship in act one was at its highest in an appearance by the a cappella, tight-harmony ensemble Potomac Fever, performing a sparkling Dan Meyer arrangement of “The Girl from Ipanema” — re-christened, naturally, “The Boy from Ipanema.” An equally high point came as the chorus ended the act with a powerful rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” featuring strong solo work from Kerry Neal.
Act two opened with a fascinating montage of TV clips displaying popular entertainers of the day before moving into an overlong, inconsistently sung impersonation of The Supremes by Michael Horton, Guiseppe DeBartolo and Greg Wilkins. Afterward, the audience got into the act with an enthusiastic sing-a-long of popular ’60s TV themes.
With all of that out of the way, Love Is All You Need finally hit its stride in a stretch of exquisitely crafted sequences anchored by “Songs of Protest and Awakenings,” grouping together “The Sound of Silence,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” “Get Together” and “We Shall Overcome.”
Dressed in white t-shirts and black pants — a stark contrast to the vibrantly colored costumes and set pieces of the first act — the chorus made a stunning visual statement on stage, accented with a smattering of period protest signs. Several chorus members came forward between songs to speak of profound personal experiences in the ’60s and vividly describe the 1969 Stonewall riots and their profound impact on the gay community. George Huffman also contributed a perfect, subtly earnest style to solo verses in “Get Together,” making it eerily evocative of the original folk-pop hit.
Remarkable solo work was also on tap from Bob Halbert, Peter Fox, Tom Nichols and Owen Taggart in “Abraham, Martin and John,” a moving tribute to progressive public servants lost to assassination. The chorus then gave a thrilling performance of “My Way” before closing with a “Celebration” sequence featuring “Monday, Monday” and two more selections from Hair — the titular number, led with gusto and a great pop-rock style by soloist Chad Wheeler, and “Let the Sunshine In.”