‘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.

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

Join the Chorus

A “Wicked” good concert

By Anthony Rodgers June 16, 2015

Closing its 29th season, Heartland Men’s Chorus paid tribute to the music of Stephen Schwartz with “A Little Bit Wicked,” a winning combination of music, camp, and an infectious love for what the group does.

Stephen 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.”

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

Copyright © 2015 KCMETROPOLIS.org Used by permission.

Are We There Yet? Men’s Choir Takes on New Challenges in a Rapidly Changing World

Paul Horsley | The Independent

HMC_Media20There’s a zephyr wind blowing through gay men’s choirs in America, and Heartland Men’s Chorus appears to have found just the right man to take it into this new era of acceptance and tolerance. On June 13th and 14th, Dustin Cates concludes his brilliant first season as the choir’s artistic director with “A Little Bit Wicked: The Music of Stephen Schwartz,” and the 35-year-old Kansas City native is fully aware of how much things have changed since the choir was founded just a few years after he was born. But he says that, even as the choir is becoming more inclusive and is likely to continue this trend, its goal remains the same: “The mission of Heartland Men’s Chorus is to sing, and to change people,” says the former choir director at Olathe East High School, who attended Ruskin High and has degrees from UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and Baker University in Baldwin. “To help them heal, and to inspire them.” Granted, “as ‘gay’ becomes more ‘okay,’ as it is more widely accepted, we’re going to have things to say about a wider variety of issues. Because Heartland Men’s Chorus stands for equality for all people, not just for gay folks.”

LGBT choruses everywhere are asking big questions about how to stay relevant in the face of increasing tolerance. “How do we … continue to address the issues that we do in a social climate that has changed so drastically, even in the past five years?” Dustin asked. When does being called the ‘gay men’s chorus’ become exclusive instead of inclusive? “Heartland Men’s Chorus has done a good job at this,” Dustin said. “We have straight men who sing in the chorus. And I regularly have guys asking, Do I have to be gay to sing in that? And I always say no, we welcome anybody.”

The war is not won, though, and Dustin believes emphatically that HMC still has a huge role to play in helping gay people to heal and grow. “We don’t need to go any farther than 30 miles south or north of Kansas City to find ourselves in communities where kids in high school … would never even consider being who they are, because of the pushback they’d get from their community and their families. So there are still people and things to sing for.”

Still, there’s no question HMC will start addressing broader issues. “When does the Heartland Men’s Chorus have something to say about racial equality, and when does it have something to say about socioeconomic disparity?” The choir’s recent concert “Modern Families,” for example, already took on questions of what it means to be a family in America today.

It’s something Dustin knows a bit about: Three and a half years ago he and his spouse, Dr. Raymond Cattaneo, adopted Emmaus, and they’ve seen how their very presence at the relatively conservative Church of the Resurrection seems to be changing hearts. “When they see Raymond and I and our little boy, we’re no longer the ‘gay agenda’ ” Dustin said. “We’re a family, who doesn’t look much different from theirs. And that’s how you change minds. … Because before that it’s fear of the unknown. ‘They’re able to marry. That’s going to desecrate the institution of marriage.’ We know that’s not true. … And I’ve seen it first-hand, people who, having had the opportunity to get to know us … have had their minds changed.” And the Heartland Men’s Chorus, which continues to expand its vision to include tours of colleges and smaller communities throughout Kansas, has the same kind of opportunity. “We love to sing at the Folly for this loving audience who supports what we do,” Dustin said. “But we also love taking our voices to places where they might not be as welcome.”

We are family

Lee Hartman | KCMetropolis.org

Modern FamiliesAuthor Richard Bach once stated, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” It is these beyond extrafamilial bonds that the Heartland Men’s Chorus along with special guest ensemble the Lawrence Children’s Choir explored to packed Folly Theater on Saturday evening’s “Modern Families.”

The acclaimed Lawrence Children’s Choir demonstrated why it continues to win national awards with a lovely opening set of J.S. Bach’s Bist du bei mir, Brian Tate’s Gate, Gate, Jim Papoulis’ Imbakwa, and Wallace Hornady’s Come and Sing! The young performers were remarkably poised with a well balanced sound and command of rhythm which was most noticeable in alternating 3/4, 6/8 Gate, Gate.

The men of HMC joined for the world premiere of Jake Narverud’s The Weaver. Naverud’s tonal language fit Bryan Welch’s text appealingly. Before the main thrust of the program, HMC’s performance of Andrea Ramsey’s Luminescence was the most noteworthy as it is arguably one of the more musically demanding pieces the chorus has programmed. The chorus afforded itself well especially on the coordinated sibilance of all the ess sounds. Unfortunately not all of the harmonies locked into place so some of the chord structures were unstable.

The second half consisted of the musical documentary “Modern Families.” Narrated beautifully by Gillian Power and Brian Ellison, the work interwove projections and family stories of chorus and community members, dance, pantomimed vignettes, and music; there was even an onstage proposal during one of the breaks. Tears of joy, sadness, and memories abounded. If there was one criticism it was that the stories were far more compelling than the overly repetitive musical selections. There were some fine musical standouts though. High tenor Todd Gregory-Downs soloed beautifully on Craig Hella Johnson’s arrangement of “A Thousand Beautiful Things.” René Clausen’s Set Me As a Seal was the most serious musical work of the piece, and the chorus rose to the occasion by sounding the best it has in years. “Way Ahead of My Time” was a laugh riot, anchored by the sure-footed dancing and impressive pipes of John Edmonds and Steve Jeffrey Karlin. How can you not love tap-dancing cavemen who question their sexuality?! Ending with Macklemore’s “Same Love” was a let-down programmatically as the chorus was relegated to simple vamps. Instead, the chorus should have opted for Mary Lambert’s more inclusive, less baggage-ridden “She Keeps Me Warm” and just altered the pronoun.

As artistic director, Dustin Cates has greatly improved the sound and overall musicianship of HMC. It was great to hear a variety of dynamics, better blend, and more complicated harmonies that had not been as fine tuned in past programs.

Heartland Men's Chorus

HMC’s hometown holiday

By Kristin Shafel Omiccioli December 10, 2014

The Heartland Men’s Chorus was bursting with hometown pride and holiday spirit in its latest show, “Kansas City Christmas,” presented at the Folly Theater last weekend.

In addition to featuring a hearty number of Kansas City artists and composers’ arrangements, the Heartland Men’s Chorus’s annual holiday extravaganza celebrated tradition and other cultures. Rich versions of classic Christmas gems “Gloria,” “Lo, How a Rose e’re Blooming,” and “I Saw Three Ships” set the tone with their expanding harmonies and wistfulness, as well as a dramatic version of “The Little Drummer Boy” which featured a tight five-person drumline. In addition to the Latin “Gloria,” the spirited African Kituba-dialect song “Noel” opened the show, with “Bashana Haba’ah” (“Next Year”) sung in Hebrew, which accompanied a touching on-stage scene of two fathers with their cute young daughters lighting a menorah. The men handled the non-English lyrics with excellent expression and diction, enunciating each phrase and syllable clearly in each piece.

Before intermission, the men sang local composer Jacob Narverud’s arrangement of three sections from Handel’s Messiah, a challenging feat with an appearance by sublime local soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson. The chorus admirably rose to the challenge of this arrangement, tackling the fugal and melismatic nature of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” especially well.

An HMC concert would not be complete without a good dose of levity, and this first concert of its 29th season was no exception. “Pirate Song,” lead by soloist Michael L. De Voe, had the choir playing for laughs with the tune’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“For romance, find a pirate”), and guest drag queen stars were riotous as the “Christmas Tree Angel” (Genewa Stanwyck) and Elsa for a medley from Frozen (De De DeVille). “Christmas in the Cloister” opened the second half: an impish take on lengthy church announcements in plainsong, with a delightfully hammy performance as Cantor by Mark A. Lechner. Tannehill Anderson even joined the merriment with her jazzy, exaggerated solo on “Variations on Jingle Bells,” arranged by local composer Mark Hayes.

HMC also included a few token heart-tugging numbers, including its “Ad Astra” selection for this concert, a wordless, mostly instrumental “Stille Nacht.” You couldn’t help also thinking of your own loved ones passed away during this one, with the stage dimmed a deep blue hue and countless sparkling stars projected throughout the hall. “Thanksgiving Song” featured some spoken word in the form of inspiring social-media posts on myriad topics, from being cancer free to a successful adoption to celebrating equal marriage, and soloist Jason Taylor gave an R&B-tinged performance of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” HMC welcomed local indie-pop recording artist Dustin Rapier to sing the lead part for Brad Millison’s “Christmas in Kansas City,” complete with mentions of the Plaza lights and our beloved fountains, arranged by HMC’s new artistic director, Dustin Cates.

As expected from HMC, production value for “Kansas City Christmas” was high-quality and created a warm, inviting scene and festive mood through lighting, props, color schemes, costumes, confetti, and more. Choreography by Jerry Jay Cranford was lively and always enhanced the songs, especially on the animated “Chanukah in Santa Monica.” This show had more assisting musicians than usual, with a flutist, string quartet, guitar-bass-drum trio, and HMC’s own piano accompanist Lamar Sims. While the accompaniment in general was strong and laid a good foundation for the chorus, the string quartet struggled with intonation and confidence on the Messiah.

Dustin Cates is a welcome addition to the HMC family. He is personable and charming on stage (if a bit stiff this first concert), clearly challenges the singers, and has a vision for continuing and expanding the organization’s messaging and musical programming. One thing is certain—you can always count on HMC to present its own special twist on the usual holiday fare, honoring traditions and in a fresh, fun way this time of year.


Heartland Men’s Chorus
Kansas City Christmas

December 5–7, 2014 (Reviewed Friday, December 5)
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO

Copyright © 2014 KCMETROPOLIS.org Used by permission.


Steve Wilson | BroadwayWorld.com

Kansas City ChristmasThe outstanding musical production of Kansas City Christmas opened the 29th season of the Heartland Men’s Chorus on Friday December 5 at the Folly Theater. The newly appointed Artistic Director Dustin S. Cates led the chorus of about 120 men through an array of humorous and sincere holiday songs to kick off the festive season. Cates served as a Guest Conductor for the Chorus’s production of I Am Harvey Milk.

Robert Lamar Sims accompanied the chorus on piano with the support of a small band. Jerry Jay Cranford designed the choreography, which included a hilarious segment in which Genewa Stanwyck as the Christmas Tree Angel attempts to return to the top of the tree as the chorus sings “Christmas Tree Angel.”

Kansas City Christmas opened with Brian Larios, Shawn Revelle, David Wood, and Samuel W. Zorn performing solos as the chorus sang “Noel.” The show continued with “Gloria,” “There is Faint Music,” and Songs of the Season that included an uplifting and amusing interpretation of “Pirate Song.”

Cole Hoover, Evan Morrow, Grant Sharples, Justin Underwood, and Jack Weber formed a drum line to accompany the chorus in the presentation of “The Little Drummer Boy.” The song originally known as “Carol of the Drum” written by Katherine Kennicott Davis made its debut in 1941 and was recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1955. Ray Conniff Singers, Bing Crosby, Johnny Cash, The Harry Simeone Choral, Stevie Wonder, and a host of others have performed or recorded the holiday classic. Of all the performances, I have had the privilege to see; none has been as grand and moving as the one performed by the talented Heartland Men’s Chorus. This song alone would be worth the price of a ticket.

Soprano Sarah Tannehill Anderson joins the chorus in Act 1 for The Messiah: Three Christmas Chorus Settings for Men’s Voices and Soprano Soloist. In Act II, she returned to the stage to perform “Variations on Jingle Bells” with the chorus. Self-produced indie pop recording artist Dustin Rapier delighted the audience with “Christmas in Kansas City”. De De DeVille, the infamous Kansas City drag diva, performed a solo from the popular Walt Disney Animation Studios film Frozen, accompanied by John Edmonds, Bob Kohler, and Brandon Sheldon as the snowman.

Ad Astra is Latin, meaning “to the stars” and symbolizes the feelings for the members of the Heartland Men’s Chorus who have passed Ad Astra. The chorus paid tribute to their missing comrades with a rendition of Stille Nacht that is sure to bring tears to the eyes.

Kansas City Christmas continues at the Folly Theatre through Sunday December 7. Photo and video courtesy of the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

What happens at HMC concerts…

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli | KCMetropolis.org

Vegas, BabyHelmed by guest director Anthony Edwards, Heartland Men’s Chorus presented an historical retrospective on the Vegas of yesteryear for its Vegas, Baby program’s first half. Following a bluesy “Route 66,” the group performed hits that naturally conjure the Sunset Strip’s glory days, from gambling (“Luck Be a Lady Tonight”) to the Rat Pack (“Mack the Knife,” “That Old Black Magic”) to Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton (“Danke Schoen”). “This Could Be the Start of Something,” made famous by Steve Allen and sung by HMC soloists Ben Helmers and Rob Hill, brought to mind Vegas as popular quickie wedding destination.

During the first half, Liberace impersonator extraordinaire Martin Preston graced the stage for two numbers, bringing the first taste of glitz and glam of the evening in a lavish, sparkling silver-and-white fur-trimmed coat and suit to match. Preston’s uncanny resemblance to the late entertainer and his finely tuned mannerisms were striking. His playing style was even accurate to Liberace’s, with hand flourishes, flowery musical gestures, and winks to the audience. Complete with candelabra atop the piano lid, Preston performed a George Gershwin medley, “The 12th Street Rag,” and in a nod to Liberace’s home state of Wisconsin, “The Beer Barrel Polka.”

Vegas of today dominated the concert’s second half, highlighting contemporary acts like Celine Dion (“My Heart Will Go On”), Cher (“Do You Believe in Life After Love”), and Elton John (“Sir Elton” medley). Standing in for Cirque du Soleil were two aerial artists from Quixotic. Chelsea Layne astounded in her graceful work with a simple suspended ring for a couple of songs, and B.J. Erdmann displayed breathtaking athleticism using two straps accompanied by Josh Groban’s Cirque du Soleil song “Let Me Fall” sung by HMC solo favorites Todd Kendall Gregory-Downs and Kelly Marzett.

What’s a visit to Vegas without a little magic? HMC invited magicians David Sandy and Lance Rich to cast their spell on the crowd, with such illusory feats as sawing a woman in half, sleight of hand, and Houdini’s infamous Metamorphosis trick. Particularly thrilling and entertaining—thanks in large part to Sandy’s charm and charisma—was their bit in which an audience member laid on a table and was pierced through with spikes, of course without leaving a scratch.

As usual with HMC shows, a number of talented soloists are given the spotlight. Notable solos for Vegas, Baby included an impressive imitation of Elvis Presley by Todd Jordan Green, Tom Lancaster’s swaggering introduction to the Elton John medley, Randy Hite’s deft handling of challenging intervals on “The Boy from Ipanema,” and Mark A. Lechner’s dapper gambler on “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.” Patrick Orlich relished his German-language solo on “Mack the Knife,” and Jeff Williams’s tone was a dead ringer for Wayne Newton’s on “Danke Schoen.”

Production values exceeded all expectations for Vegas, Baby, with creative lighting design, colorful, intricate costuming, and fun choreography. Less successful, however, was HMC subset the HeartAches’ piece, “Miss Otis Regrets,” from Bette Midler’s recent Diva Las Vegas show. While certainly cute and campy with well-blended voices, the overall energy of the evening dipped during this one, and took a bit to recover, suffering through a couple of bungled entrances on the following songs before picking back up for the finale. One of the chorus’s greatest musical moments came during the first half, though, on Edwards’s lovely arrangement of “Love Me Tender” in the Elvis Presley medley, which brought out the clearest harmonies and intonation of the evening.

A talented band of familiar faces in jazz and musical theatre laid the foundation—Sam Wisman on drums, Jeff Harshbarger on bass, Erik Blume on woodwinds, and Daniel Doss on keyboard accompanied HMC regular pianist Lamar Sims. Sims, normally subdued at the piano bench, came forth with surprising humor during his vocal solo on the first half’s final piece, “Pansies Everywhere You Go,” and “Viva Las Vegas” ended the program by pulling out all the stops in a grand spectacle worthy of the Strip—both Quixotic aerialists, drag queen showgirls, HMC’s signature dance troupe, and a vivacious solo by John Edmonds. Board chair Keith Wiedenkeller, with his smooth baritone, gave a tender rendition of “My Way” reminiscent of Ol’ Blue Eyes, in a tribute to HMC’s Ad Astra members (those who have passed away).

BWW Review: Everyone is a Winner with VEGAS BABY in Kansas City

Steve Wilson | BroadwayWorld.com

Marin Preston as LiberaceKansas City audiences are fortunate to be highly entertained with a Vegas style show, including magicians, entertainers suspended above the stage, a Liberace impersonator, and the phenomenal Heartland Men’s Chorus as they present Vegas Baby at the Folly Theater in Kansas City. Anthony T. Edwards appears as the guest conductor of the Kansas City premiere gay men’s chorus. Edwards is the Resident Music Director for Starlight TheatreThe Coterie, and The Unicorn Theatre.

Act I Vegas of Yesterday, began the chorus singing “Route 66” which included a solo performance by Steven Jeffrey Karlin. The second number brought a solo from Mark A. Lechner with “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from Guys and Dolls.

The third song brought to the stage the first special guest of the evening as the chorus sang “That Old Black Magic. The song truly brought magic to the stage in the form of professional magicians Lance Rich and David Sandy. The audience was mystified at the illusions and humor they brought to the stage.

Several fantastic songs by the chorus followed the two magicians before the second guest Martin Preston appeared on stage wearing a rhinestone studded, fur accented, long-flowing white coat, and suit to match. Preston has spent the last 24 years re-creating the glamour and music of the late Liberace. Amazing is the only way to describe his performance as he mimics Liberace in appearance, voice, humorous quips, and stroking of the ivory keys.

Elvis Presley played Las Vegas many times before his premature death in 1977 at Graceland, his Memphis home. The Heartland Men’s Chorus paid tribute to the “King of Rock and Roll” with a medley which included “Jailhouse Rock,” “Don’t Be Cruel” with a solo by Todd Jordan Green, “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Love Me Tender” arranged by Anthony Edwards.

Special guest Quixotic performed during several of the songs in both acts, with aerial acrobatics that push the limits of athletic artistry. The feats they performed above the stage were as fantastic as the blending of the voices of the chorus.

Act II, Vegas of Today, opened with a humorous rendition of “The Boy from Ipanema,” which included a solo by Randy Hite. Rich and Sandy returned to the stage to fascinate the audience with feats of illusion that boggled the mind. What kind of Vegas show would it be without Elton JohnTom Lancaster performed a wonderful solo of “Sir Elton,” followed by John Edmonds superb performance of “Viva Las Vegas.”

Vegas Baby continues at the Folly Theater on Sunday June 15 at 4 p.m. Call 816-931-3338 to purchase tickets for the final performance.

We are all Harvey Milk

Anthony Rodgers | KCMetropolis.org

I Am harvey Milk“We gotta give them hope.” These words of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office, were taken to heart by the Heartland Men’s Chorus, who joined with the Gateway Men’s Chorus from St. Louis this weekend at the Folly Theater. After each ensemble sang selections of their own, Andrew Lippa’s large work I Am Harvey Milk received its Midwest premiere, forcing an element of introspection on the part of everyone present and a call for action to end all remaining hate.

The Gateway Men’s Chorus started the concert with a performance of Candlelight, a work by their conductor, Al Fischer; due to some timid sounds from the lower voices, the work was a bit unstable. However the ensemble quickly regrouped for a thrilling choral version of “Simple Joys” from Pippin to demonstrate their exceptional musicality. Intoning the words of John Donne, No Man Is An Island resembled the solemnity of a Germanic Requiem, and the chorus’s clean intervals sung at a soft dynamic were impressive. Borrowing again from musical theatre, GMC closed with “Light,” the final number from Next to Normal, unifying all of their works in a subtly inspirational set and what seemed to be their own tribute to the Harvey Milks of the world.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus began their segment with Dan Forrest’s The Music of Living, a subdued fanfare that showcased the sheer power of the men’s combined voices. I Met A Boy was a humorous and humbling juxtaposition of the years 1958, 1976, and 2010, highlighting societal changes in regard to homosexuality. A beautiful timbre was created at the beginning of Inscription of Hope, a piece remembering the Holocaust, by piano, string quartet, oboe, and a wordless choir. The rich, dark sound in the choir continued through the opening of Give ‘Em Hope, which gradually shifted to a lighter, gospel style, during which it was hard not to feel inspired to dance along.

I Am Harvey Milk was an ambitious project involving both choruses, three soloists, a chamber orchestra, and a great deal of projected imagery. Not a biographical work, the oratorio-like work instead examined various aspects of Milk’s life, asking the listener to examine his or her place in a changing world and find something relatable in the life and words of one iconic man. The voice of Milk haunted the hall before the large chorus began the movement “I Am The Bullet,” influenced by postminimalism, speaking to a silent population of opinion-less persons. Converting the Folly into a 1970s disco, “Friday Night in the Castro” was a lively number involving group choreography that was engaging overall, although risky at times when not everyone remembers to fully participate. As homosexual slurs were written on a screen like graffiti, the words echoed through the room with a modified version of the familiar rhyme “Sticks and Stones,” and as the terms shifted to include derogatory slang for racial groups, the global impact of hateful words grew realized and heavy. The projections were distracting at times, however, particularly during the beautiful “San Francisco.” Perhaps the most rousing of the numbers was the finale, “Tired of the Silence,” as Milk’s moving words rallied listeners to victory by being one’s self.

As Harvey Milk, Tom Lancaster was a perfect fit, bringing elements of his musical theatre background to this concert stage, truly embodying the icon himself. His voice during “You Are Here” was commanding, supple, and always under control. Portraying a young Milk, Cam Burns had a remarkable voice, full of the innocence and ambition desired from the character. Sylvia Stone, soprano, faltered often on sustained lines, going noticeably flat, but her stage presence was spot-on with each portrait, and the recitative sections in “Leap” were clean and easily understood.

Additional elements of the event included the well-balanced chamber ensemble that was never overbearing or overpowered. Sign language interpreter John T. Adams did more than offer his interpretive services, dancing along with the music happening behind him—an appreciated subtlety. The lighting effects were well done, always appropriate to the moods and lyrics of individual movements and pieces. All in all, these components worked together to convert an anticipated choral concert into the uplifting and inspirational event that it was, echoing the message of Harvey Milk that “hope will never be silent.”