30th Anniversary Concert “I Rise”

INSPIRED BY HISTORY
Heartland Men’s Chorus, Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, presents I RISE, our 30th anniversary concert that looks back at our proud history while looking forward with the inspiring words of the late United States Poet Laureate, Dr. Maya Angelou.

The first half of our concert features songs that are memorable milestones of our incredible history starting with Brothers Sing Out which was performed at our very first concert in 1986. Since then, our audiences have been moved to tears, offered raucous laughter and reflected upon songs that resonate with them for so many different reasons. Our first half selections are the musical gems of Heartland Men’s Chorus.

The second half of the concert will offer songs that evoke the feeling and memories of the safe places we call home, followed by the world premiere of I Rise our newly commissioned piece by internationally renowned composer Mark Hayes and inspired by the poems of Maya Angelou. HMC is the first chorus to receive rights from Dr. Angelou’s estate to make use of her poetry in a significant musical work.

“Her poetry is synonymous with Civil Rights and elevating oneself and ones’ surrounding community,” says HMC Artistic Director Dustin Cates. “It’s only fitting for Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus to commission and present this significant work.”

HMC is proud to be collaborating with the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey as four of their dancers, directed by Chief Artistic Officer Tyrone Aiken, will interpret I Rise on stage with the Chorus.

“This concert is a perfect way to celebrate the rich history of an incredibly unique arts organization,” says Cates. “No other chorus in the Great Plains does what we do, or draws such large crowds, or provides a message that entertains, but also heals and inspires.”

I RISE will be performed 8 p.m. Saturday, June 11 and 4 p.m. Sunday, June 12 at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th Street in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets ranging in price from $18 to $43 are available online at www.hmckc.org/tickets/ or by calling 816-931-3338.
Come as you are, dress is casual, be ready to be inspired!

HMC Presents “Perfect Pitch”

With a little less piano and a whole lot of heart, Heartland Men’s Chorus, Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus, presents “Perfect Pitch,” a concert that celebrates the power and beauty of the human voice.

Singing mostly a cappella arrangements, the 135-voice chorus will perform songs featuring intricate arrangements of contemporary popular music including “The Good Life” by OneRepublic, “Stitches” by Shawn Mendes, and the Pentatonix arrangement of the Imagine Dragons hit “Radioactive.”

Some classics will also be offered with the same distinctive sound of Heartland Men’s Chorus, including “Ave Maria,” “Home on the Range,” and “Loch Lomond.”

“Only at an HMC concert can you hear the beauty of “Ave Maria” on the same bill as “Radioactive,” says HMC Artistic Director Dustin Cates. “We respect the serious music while bringing an exciting edge to the stage with some very popular numbers.”

As is customary with an HMC concert, the first half is more subtle and sublime, while the second half kicks it up a few notches with songs that will have the audience and the singers moving to the music and laughing to some wonderful surprises.

Guest artists include the amazing sounds of local beatboxer artist Luke Harbur who will open the ears and eyes of audience members with his unique sounds and rhythm. We’ll also be joined on stage by “Kansas City A Cappella,” a group of area high school students who bring youthful excitement to the a cappella art form.

Heartland Men’s Chorus welcomes new and returning audience members of any age to experience what The Kansas City Star calls “one of the most beloved arts institutions in Kansas City.”

“Perfect Pitch” will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 19th and 4 p.m. Sunday, March 20th at the historic Folly Theater at 300 W. 12th Street in Kansas City. Tickets are available online at http://hmckc.org/tickets/ or by calling 816-931-3338. Prices range from $18 to $43 with special student pricing at $7. Come as you are, dress is casual, be ready for fun!

(Christmas) hammin’ it up

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli | KC Metropolis

Kansas City ChristmasA trumpet duo called the Heartland Men’s Chorus concert to order Friday night, followed by chorus members placed throughout the aisles, on a sober Personent Hodie arrangement by Lara Hoggard. The final line, a strong unison of all voices, was majestic and beautifully set the tone of the first half, which included more traditional holiday selections. With a mixture of sacred and secular, old and new, familiar and perhaps not-so well known, Dustin Cates’s programming was a testament to the historical themes of the season—peace, togetherness, acceptance, good cheer—while striking me as rather timely messaging for today’s tumultuous world, too.

The first half showcased works that had some of the most complex polyphony, mixed meter, and counterpoint I’ve heard from HMC, including a set of Hovland’s The Glory of the Father (excerpt) and Powell’s The Word was God, Helvey’s trio of Christmas carols (“Fum, Fum, Fum,” “Coventry Carol,” and “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day”), and selections from Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols. The chorus shined in its comfort zone during this half’s heartfelt “The Ground” from Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass and the lively African-American spiritual Child of God, which gave guest pianist Jan Willbanks the spotlight, rockin’ licks on the keys in a swinging blues style.

HMC included its Jewish members and friends in its holiday celebration with Knecht’s Shalom Aleikhem, featuring Max H. Brown in a committed, dignified solo introduction, and Alex Bency added a delicate touch with his cello part. On the second half, after a dramatic flourish on the piano by accompanist Lamar Sims, the HeartAches octet put an upbeat spin on Hanukkah songs—usually minor-keyed or phrygian—with “Boogie Woogie Hanukkah,” revealing a playful and acute sense of humor both musically and lyrically.

After intermission, HMC worked the Christmas ham (figuratively!) with a few recognizable standards (the jolly “We Need a Little Christmas” and a rock version of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) and several newer pop tunes, including the saccharine local holiday anthem “Christmas in Kansas City.” The second half of the night was replete with HMC’s signature camp, light choreography, and costuming. A troupe of choristers dressed as the reindeer for “Rudolph,” with literal translations of their names (Blitzen was blitzed, Comet had cleaning supplies, etc.), and the men whipped out their cell phones to accompany the Straight No Chaser tune “Text Me Merry Christmas.” Brandon Shelton was convincing as the sassy letter writer to Santa, unapologetic for his cheeky request in “I Want a Lumbersexual for Christmas.”

Many fine soloists from the ensemble were featured throughout the evening, on classics and pop songs alike. Mike Sigler, at first an unassuming presence on stage, brought forth a robust, arresting tenor on two pieces of the Britten set. Tone Stowers and Jason Taylor flavored their solos (on Jewel’s “Hands” and “Christmas in Kansas City,” respectively) with a melismatic R&B pop sound, while Terry W. Christensen and Rob Curry gave tender interpretations apropos to the timely sentiments in the lyrics of their solos (introductions to “Grown-Up Christmas List” and “Merry Everything,” respectively). Keith Widenkeller provided the solemn, gentle solo on this year’s “Ad Astra” tribute, “Auld Lang Syne,” as the chorus behind him linked arms as commonly practiced in Scotland.

The stand-out piece of the concert was undoubtedly “Marvelous Holiday Sweater,” which featured Adam Brown not only in a hearty solo part, but also in a light-up tie and matching jacket as he “emceed” a “fashion show” of the tackiest, most over-the-top sweaters imaginable. Closing the night was a bright rendition of Andy Beck’s  “Let There Be Peace,” led by soloist R. Elise Pointer who embellished this spiritual-like tune with enthusiasm that brought down the house.

Dustin Cates, now in his second year as HMC’s artistic director, has continued and expanded on HMC’s strong presence in the Kansas City arts scene. His arrangements (almost half the tunes on this program) cater to the chorus’s strengths while still challenging them. With local pride being at epic levels, Cates decided to stick with last year’s “Kansas City Christmas” theme once again, especially after finding the perfect item to exhibit as the centerpiece of the expectedly incredible set. An original Manneco crown, once an iconic part of downtown Kansas City during the holidays, sparkled above the chorus in all its authentic, regal glory.

Dustin Cates, Heartland Men’s Chorus artistic director, redefines holiday tradition

Nick Spacek | The Pitch

Dustin Cates 1The Heartland Men’s Chorus has always aimed for what it refers to as a “non-traditional holiday tradition” at its annual December concert. As Kansas City’s premier gay men’s chorus, the group has plenty of room to fill that niche.

After the success of last year’s Kansas City Christmas, artistic director Dustin Cates wanted to solidify the annual program as a local tradition. To that end, he dug into the city’s history to create an ambience that reflected both the chorus and the city.

The Pitch spoke with Cates by phone about his role, the Heartland Men’s Chorus’ place in Kansas City, and establishing a new custom.

The Pitch: Tell me about how the Heartland Men’s Chorus embraces the “non-traditional” aspect of Christmas choral music.

Cates: For instance, we’re singing a series of songs from Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols in the first half, which is a pretty legitimate piece of choral music with harp accompaniment. And then, in the second half, we’re singing a parody of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” called “I Want a Lumbersexual for Christmas.”

That’s one of the great things about Heartland Men’s Chorus: We really do try to do it all, and we try to do it all with as much excellence as we can. I think that this concert, in particular, is a really great example of that because our first half is a little more serious, legitimate choral music — if you like to call it that — and the second half is a little bit more irreverent, kind of fun, Hamburger Mary’s-style.

Trying to make something like Kansas City Christmas a new tradition in the 30th year of an organization seems like a really grand plan.

The original concept started because I had to put a season together, like, five minutes after they hired me [in 2014], and I was trying to come up with something for the holiday. Every year, the chorus would come up with a different slant on it. One year, they did Holiday Glee and did holiday music from the television show, and I think the last one before I got there was Baby, It’s Cold Outside, which was music about the weather and being cold. In general, it was always this blend of classics and zany, campy stuff. For a lot of our subscribers and supporters, it’s how they kick off the holiday season.

As I was thinking about what I would do the next year, I realized that Kansas City Christmas was probably the highest-selling holiday show they’d had in the history of the organization. We based a lot of the concert off Kansas City composers, and it explored what it was like to be in Kansas City during the holidays. I just thought that civic pride is at an all-time high. Last year’s holiday concert was a huge success, and given that they [the Kansas City Ballet and the Kansas City Symphony] do The Nutcracker and the Messiah year after year, there’s no reason that Heartland Men’s Chorus can’t brand their holiday concert.

I get the feeling that there’s always a delicate balance between giving people what they expect to hear and challenging yourself as an artist. How do you challenge yourself and the audience while maintaining that balance?

As an artist, there are certain sorts of traditional, standard, familiar pieces that you are drawn to because they’re a part of your experience or your heritage as a musician. The other side of the coin as an artist is that you really love to try and reinvent some of those ideas to make them new and relevant and interesting to all audiences — some that have heard the given piece before, some that have maybe never heard it before.

The Benjamin Britten piece is a great example. It’s not originally written for men’s chorus. The arrangement we’re singing was originally written for treble voices — so, a women’s chorus. That’s sort of a new take on it — that we’re, as a men’s chorus, singing it an octave down.

What were you doing prior to becoming the Heartland Men’s Chorus artistic director?

I spent 11 years teaching high school choir. I taught high school because I felt like I was really in there making a difference in those kids’ lives. As an openly gay guy with a husband and a kid, teaching in southern Johnson County — I mean, that’s a statement that I felt needed to be made.

As a lifelong Kansas Citian, I was always aware of Heartland Men’s Chorus, and I loved their brand of classics and really great choral singing but also that they could blow your mind with some campy, crazy, really fun songs. But I wasn’t really aware of the community advocacy that happened. Both internally, for the guys — I mean, some of those guys are 50 years old and divorced their wives, and their kids won’t speak to them. The only family they have is Heartland Men’s Chorus. On the other side of the coin is the advocacy the chorus does in the city for LGBT issues, which is huge. That part of the organization I wasn’t aware of before I had the opportunity to guest conduct.

The job posting came up, and I thought, “This is a full-time job? This is cool!” In addition to that, it allows me this free time to be a really great dad, whereas before that, I was spending the entire day and entire night sometimes as a high school choral director for the musical or contest or something like that.

I just say to the guys, “We just fell in love, and I can’t quit you guys. You decided to keep me.” It fell into place, and it feels good. I was putting together the playbill for the show, and I never thought, five years ago, that I would be putting in the credits of something I was doing “Lumbersexual No. 1” and “Lumbersexual No. 2,” but this is what I do now!

Heartland Men’s Chorus Turns 30

Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC) has announced its upcoming season, the 30th anniversary for Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus.

The season will begin with Kansas City Christmas, December 4-6, 2015. The title of the concert is an intentional holdover from last year’s record-breaking holiday concert.

“Our holiday concert is considered an annual tradition by so many in our audience,” says artistic director Dustin S. Cates. “The music is different every year, but the combination of sacred holiday music and campy comic numbers never changes. We will be keeping the title Kansas City Christmas every year to underscore the concert’s place as a Kansas City tradition.”

Among the more traditional offerings will be four movements from Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols.” Comic highlights include an arrangement of “Text Me Merry Christmas,” a song which became a viral video sensation for Straight No Chaser in 2014. One holdover from last year’s edition will be “Christmas in Kansas City,” which Cates hopes will be an annual fixture.

March 19 and 20, 2016, the group presents Perfect Pitch, a largely a cappella concert featuring intricate arrangements of contemporary popular music. Among the songs included will be “The Good Life” by OneRepublic, “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars, and the Pentatonix arrangement of the Imagine Dragons hit “Radioactive.”

Deke Sharon, producer of “The Sing Off” and arranger/vocal producer for Universal’s Pitch Perfect & Pitch Perfect 2, will help prepare the chorus for the performance, serving as a clinician during the rehearsal process.

Special guests included in the program will be local beatboxer Luke Harbur and KC A Cappella, Kansas City’s high school a cappella ensemble.

The chorus closes the season with I Rise, an inspirational program and celebration of its anniversary season, June 11-12, 2016. The concert will feature guests from HMC’s 30-year history, including chorus alumni and Dr. Joseph Nadeau, the group’s artistic director from 1998-2014.

The program will feature songs long associated with the chorus, such as Fred Small’s “Everything Possible,” as well as new works, including a new commission by Mark Hayes based on the life and work of Maya Angelou.

After the season ends, the chorus will tour an abridged version of I Rise to towns in central and western Kansas, and the GALA Choruses Festival in Denver, Colorado.

The chorus will welcome new members when rehearsals begin on September 8, 2015. Cates expects the group to perform with 120-130 men this season.

All season performances take place at the Folly Theater, 300 West 12th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. Season tickets from $72.00 – $114.00 are available now by phone at (816) 931-3338 and online at http://hmckc.org.

 

#   #   #

‘Big Gay Sing’ unites music, comedy, drag queens in fun filled hour

Bob Evans | AXS.com

Heartland Men's ChorusDust off the vocal pipes, clap hands, snap fingers, sing along, and laugh a lot when viewing the Heartland Men’s Chorus in their Kansas City Fringe Festival 2015 entry, “Big Gay Sing,” that entertained many in its three day weekend run at Kansas City’s historic Union Station.

Drag Queens, Daisy Buckët and Summer Tryst acted as mistresses of ceremony and also preformed to the delight of the audiences. Heartland Men’s Chorus brought an abbreviated number of members to the songfest for the Fringe Festival.

According to their Fringe blurb, “Come sing your heart out with the gays! ‘Big Gay Sing!’ is a fun-filled, sing-a-long-tastic evening complete with all of your favorite big gay songs. This collision of karaoke bar and choir concert features fabulous singers, a live band, lyrics on the screen for you to sing along and special guest soloists and first-time drag performers straight from the audience. Join Heartland Men’s Chorus and host, Kansas City’s songstress drag queen, Daisy Buckët, in a concert event where you are the star.”

The show was fast paced, fun and full of audience members singing along and signaling approval with tons of laughter, clapping and loud singing. This performance differs from the HMC’s normal concert format where they present longer concert-style shows throughout the year. This show delivered fast-paced music, happy music, and encouraged the audience to sing their hearts out.

“Big Gay Sing” stands as one of the contenders for Best of Venue with packed performances and strong ticket sales. The show stands out as one of the premiere musical entries of the 2015 KC Fringe.

About the Fringe: The Kansas City Fringe Festival begins its second decade with this year’s slate of performances. The 2015 festival opens with a night of “Teasers” on Thursday, July 17. Performances begin on Friday, July 18 and run through July 26. Some shows present three times, while others have 4-6 performances. No all shows occur on consecutive days or at the same times. To be admitted to the Fringe, patrons need to purchase a Fringe button for $5. To purchase individual show tickets, the Fringe button needs to be shown. Fringe buttons are available at all venues.

Fringe shows run at about a dozen different venues throughout the Kansas City, Missouri downtown and midtown areas. Shows range from comedies, dramas, musicals, vocals, instrumentals, stand up, improvisation, burlesque and more. Many shows make their debut at the Fringe in hopes of further development and productions.

Most Fringe shows are 60 minutes. A few Fringe shows are 90 minutes. Further information is available through the Fringe official website.

KC Fringe 2015: Big Gay Sing

Karen Hauge | KCMetropolis.org

Big Gay SingPossibly the most FABULOUS addition to this year’s Fringe Festival, Heartland Men’s Chorus’s Big Gay Sing! brings the audience into the action with a big-screen projection of each and every wonderful word of all the anthemic pop songs they perform. The audience is encouraged to— nay, almost shamed into— singing along, by songstress drag queen Daisy Buckët and her friend Summer Tryst, which is not a difficult task when you consider the material the audience gets to sing. The works of Journey, ABBA, Meghan Trainor, and more feature in this musical extravaganza that got the whole room on their feet and partying along with HMC.

HMC and artistic director Dustin S. Cates stuck to simple arrangements with two- or three-part harmonies, a strong choice in the somewhat odd performance space of City Stage. The chorus had a blast, each man bringing a bag of props along to send the crowd into giggles with every appearance of sunglasses, feather boas, cowboy hats, or wigs. The best use of these props was definitely Stay Tuned!, a medley of popular TV show theme songs; I mean, the Brady Bunch theme song is funny enough on its own, but add wigs and a recreation of the opening Hollywood Squares-style shot and you’re sure to have a room full of people clutching their bladders and praying for control.

Pop anthems like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “It’s Raining Men” were surely memorable, but it was the appropriately wacked-out rendition of “Time Warp” that will stick in my brain forever. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a nearly full house of casually dressed suburbanites jump to their feet and do the pelvic thrust with absolutely no provocation. Daisy’s “All About That Bass” restored my interest in that song completely, and the riotous disco medley that closed the show had us all on our feet again and dancing out of the theater.

REVIEW:
KC Fringe 2015
Big Gay Sing!
Friday, July 17; Saturday, July 18, 6:00pm (Reviewed); Saturday, July 18, 10:00pm; Sunday, July 19
City Stage Theatre at Union Station
30 West Pershing Rd., Kansas City MO
For more tickets and more information, visit http://www.kcfringe.org

A Couple’s Road To Emmaus, Fatherhood

StoryCorpsSuzanne Hogan | KCUR

Raymond Cattaneo and his husband Dustin Cates were together six years before they decided that they wanted to adopt a baby and build their family.

The Kansas City couple met with a social worker to partake in a home study, and as they were wrapping it up, Cattaneo called Cates from the hospital, where he was doing rounds.

“You said, hey there is a mom here who had a baby, and I think she wants to give it to us,” recalls Cates. Cates rushed to the hospital to meet with the mother and to see their son for the first time. “I can still remember walking in and seeing our little boy, and thinking how could she give him up?”

They started to talk to the mother about the next steps to take.

“About 15 or 20 minutes later, she said well I’m leaving the hospital today and I want you to have him,” says Cates. “So of course, we immediately panicked because we weren’t ready to take a baby home.”

Coats and Cattaneo met with their social worker and lawyer, figured out a plan, and six days later, they brought their son, Emmaus, home.

“I look at him in that name as a call for me to go change the world, because that’s what he did for us,” says Cattaneo. “It just speaks this idea of unconditional love.”

The name Emmaus comes from a Bible passage that is dear to their family.

It’s from the book of Luke. After Jesus had been crucified and resurrected from the dead, the apostles were walking to the town of Emmaus when they met a man along the road who was Jesus, but at the time they didn’t recognize him. They invite Jesus to walk with them and stay with them and eat, and during that process they realize who he is.

“And that sort of changes their entire world,” Cates says. “That was a really outstanding name for a kid who would do the same thing for us. Who would come into our lives, and turn things upside down, but make things amazing.”

Editor’s note: StoryCorps OutLoud visited KCUR in June to collect stories from Kansas City’s LGBTQ community in partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America.

HMC Takes on Fringe Festival with Big Gay Sing

Big Gay SingHeartland Men’s Chorus usually takes the summer months off, but this year the group is poised to launch a new event as part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival. The Chorus will present Big Gay Sing, an interactive sing-along variety show for four performances, July 17-19, 2015.

“It will be more of a party atmosphere, as opposed to a concert atmosphere,” says artistic director Dustin S. Cates. “And it’s all about audience participation.”

Lyrics for the songs will appear on the screen for audience members to sing along. The repertoire will feature songs familiar to audience members, including television theme songs (from “Friends,” “The Golden Girls” and “The Brady Bunch,” among others), disco hits from ABBA and The Village People, and karaoke favorites like “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Sweet Caroline.”

Kansas City’s favorite drag entertainer, Daisy Buckët, will emcee the shows and will sing with the Chorus on several numbers. Other drag entertainers, including Summer Tryst, are scheduled to appear and some audience members will be “drafted into drag” live on stage.

Big Gay Sing was a concept originally developed by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus in 2009. The high-energy, informal, party-like atmosphere of the event made it an audience favorite and reinvigorated NYCGMC’s artistic program. Big Gay Sing became and annual event and brought the group’s music to a wider audience.

Heartland Men’s Chorus will present Big Gay Sing at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 17, 6:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, July 18, and 3:00 p.m. Sunday, July 19. All performances will take place at H&R Block City Stage at Union Station. Tickets are $10 (plus a $5 Fringe Festival button, required for admittance to any Fringe events), and are available in advance at http://kcfringe.org.

About Heartland Men’s Chorus

Proudly singing out in Kansas City since 1986, Heartland Men’s Chorus is a not-for-profit, volunteer chorus of gay and gay-sensitive people who are making a positive cultural contribution to the entire community. HMC performs a varied repertoire of music, including jazz, Broadway, popular and classical works, and regularly performs with more than 130 singers. The chorus performs a three concert season at the historic Folly Theater to an annual audience of more than 7,000, and performs dozens of community outreach performances each year throughout the Midwest.

About the Kansas City Fringe Festival

KC Fringe Festival is an annual 11-day performing and visual arts extravaganza. It straddles a thin, frayed line between mass appeal and eclectic tastes. Fringe links these two worlds together, showing that it is the bridge you take to be inspired and entertained no matter what your taste may be.

#   #   #

A “Wicked” good concert

Anthony Rodgers | KCMetropolis

A Little Bit WickedStephen Schwartz has found success writing music and lyrics for both stage and screen and remains a standard name in the theatre world today. Under the direction of Dustin S. Cates, Heartland Men’s Chorus had magic to do as the group paid tribute to Schwartz this weekend with a gravity-defying program filled with energy, laughter, and passion.

HMC is one of Kansas City’s most popular ensembles, and the Folly Theater was packed to hear the large, all-male chorus. The sheer sound created by the group is often full and sonorous, balancing strong lower voices with upper notes sitting nicely on top, and all with wonderful intonation. These moments were especially grand as the men sang “Glory” during a medley of numbers of Pippin and “No One Mourns the Wicked” from Wicked. At times, mumbled lyrics hindered the chorus from projecting this desired sound and instead made the songs difficult to understand and somewhat uncomfortable, notably in “Spark of Creation” from Children of Eden and “Just Around the River Bend” from Disney’s Pocahontas.

Unlike most choral groups, however, HMC does not shy away from the campiness that is group hand choreography. White gloves shone brightly under black light to give a mystical nod to the original staging of Pippin’s opening number, “Magic to Do,” and simple, repetitive motions enhanced the fairy-tale innocence of “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted.

The program predominately featured well-known numbers from Schwartz’s impressive and expansive oeuvre. HMC, however, decided to include a 2012 work that stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the evening’s selections. With lyrics taken from and inspired by the It Gets Better Project, “Testimony” was premiered by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus as a response to the bullying of LGBT youth. While the message of the work is important and emotions ran high from the stage through the theater, the piece felt completely out of place with the rest of the program’s pop theatrical focus. HMC does a great job handling works with such sensitive subjects, but the placement of this particular piece was too uncharacteristic to the evening as a whole.

A variety of soloists performed with the chorus, many of which came from the ranks of HMC, demonstrating the levels of talent that regularly sing with the group. With a gorgeous tone and clean approach to his numbers, Kansas City-native Brandon L. Pearson was a standout vocalist. He commanded the stage during “Forgiveness’ Embrace” from True Home, connecting with the audience to present the heartfelt lyrics and sing the beautiful melody, accompanied by the warm sounds of Spectrum, a small ensemble of HMC members. Pearson also did a fabulous job maintaining high levels of energy during “We Beseech Thee” in a medley of songs from Godspell. This medley also included an intimate and well-deserved feature of Rick McAdams, the evening’s sign language interpreter, during “Day By Day,” and a strong proclamation from “Prepare Ye” by Michael L. De Voe. De Voe also put on quite the act during Enchanted’s “Happy Little Working Song” as a braided cleaning bear with Spectrum serving as his chamber maid choir! Ultimately, a swishy trio stole the show, as Wilson L. Allen, Bob Kohler, and Brandon Shelton pulled out all the pink stops—and tiaras and feather boas—for a delightful and hilarious rendition of “Popular” from Wicked.

Sopranist Sara Sommerer took an incredible about-face for the better with her performances between acts. Singing “When You Believe” from Prince of Egypt, Sommerer overshadowed her duet partner, Steven Jeffrey Karlin, and his smooth, dark sound with forced screamings of extraneous notes. In a pleasant turn of events, her Wicked duets with Julie O’Rourke Kaul were entirely on point. Sommerer and O’Rourke Kaul blended beautifully with one another as the singing witches and even incorporated well-considered staging in the style of standard productions.

Some of the numbers included guest dancers to add an additional visual element. While demonstrating elegant motion, a lack of precision and uniformity was a strong hindrance to the overall desired effects. The dancers also gave the impression that they did not know the choreography well enough on their own and instead relied on each other for the next position. And though it is standard for Elphaba to take flight on stage during “Defying Gravity,” the hoisting of a young dancer into the air was uncomfortable to watch during the evening’s closing song.

Heartland Men’s Chorus holds a high standard of musical and camp excellence, and this weekend’s presentation of Stephen Schwartz classics was a charming concert, paying tribute to one of musical theatre’s most prolific composers and the art of being “wicked.”

REVIEW:
Heartland Men’s Chorus 

A Little Bit Wicked
June 13–14 (Reviewed Saturday, June 13, 2015)
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit http://hmckc.org/