“At each step, you think it can’t get better than this,” says Marsha Pearson about the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. “Whoa, was I wrong!” Identified as the organization’s founder, Pearson is fittingly the first person to speak directly to the audience in the special 90-minute digital video celebrating the chorus’s 40th anniversary and overseen by artistic director Thea Kano.
Pearson’s sentiment rings true no matter how many shows you’ve taken in from one of the biggest, best, and oldest LGBTQ choral groups in the country. Proving the point is the fact that Pearson actually made those remarks back in 1991, shortly after the chorus’s 10th-anniversary concert.
The chorus has covered a lot of ground in the three decades since, representing a vibrant gay scene in the nation’s capital and the global LGBTQ choral movement it helped nurture. They have sung in support of social justice, equality, and progressive causes from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and the Supreme Court to the concert halls of the Kennedy Center and New York’s Carnegie Hall, with tours along the way everywhere from Sweden to Ukraine to the American Deep South.
All of that is seen or touched on in the video tribute through concert memorabilia, photographs, and archival video footage, most shot for private or organizational purposes rather than for public consumption and review. Yet even when seen in grainy video, the talent, drive, passion, and purpose of the chorus and its hundreds of members always manages to shine through.
The chorus is well-known for putting on entertaining and eye-catching staged concert productions full of fun and frivolity — with generous heapings of camp, sass, innuendo, and sometimes even a bit of skin.
After four decades, it remains such a powerful force — and it is arguably more powerful and popular now than ever — in large part because of the connection, camaraderie, and common cause that bonds its members.
Nothing puts that all in sharper focus than the collection of somber and heartfelt songs, specifically arranged for the full chorus, that have become the group’s signature anthems, including “Never Ever,” “Proud,” and especially “Make Them Hear You.”
A performance of the latter song, adapted from the musical Ragtime by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, serves as the climax of the 40th-anniversary video — or more precisely, the first half of a two-part climax that ends with a newer, even more powerful and moving anthem, “Harmony’s Never Too Late,” which Flaherty and Ahrens actually wrote for the chorus in honor of this momentous occasion. “Sing!” a hundred voices resonate in harmonized unison, forcefully reinforcing the GMCW’s whole purpose and cause.
GMCW Turns 40 is available for streaming in 72-hour increments until June 20. Tickets are $25. Visit www.gmcw.org.
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