BWW Reviews: I AM HARVEY MILK a Hit With Combined Chorus of St. Louis and Kansas City

Steve Wilson |

Heartland Men's ChorusThe Heartland Men’s Chorus and the Gateway Men’s Chorus from St. Louis, Mo. united on Friday night March 29 at theFolly Theater in Kansas City, Mo. The combined chorus presented I Am Harvey Milk, with words and music by Andrew Lippa. The production brought together three guest conductors, Dustin Stephen Cates, Al Fischer the Artistic Director for the Gateway Men’s Chorus, and Dr. Tim Seelig the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

The life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold public office in California, from boyhood to his assassination unfolds through dialogue and music. I Am Harvey Milk stars Cam Burns, Tom Lancaster, and Sylvia Stoner and includes guest accompanist Martin Fox with the Gateway Men’s Chorus and guest sign language interpreter John T. Adams with the St. Louis chorus.

The Gateway Men’s Chorus opens the show with four songs, followed by the Heartland Men’s Chorus performing four songs leading into intermission. Carlton Lee, accompanied on guitar by Dean Rose and Sequoia Sprite, performs solo for The Gateway Men’s Chorus with their opening song “Candlelight.” The Heartland Men’s Chorus followed, performing four songs with the last song of their set featuring a solo by Dr. Tim Seelig singing, “Give ‘Em Hope.”

Act II opens in 1942 with the prelude I Am, “An Operatic Masterpiece,” featuring a young Harvey, adult Harvey, and the combined Gateway and Heartland Chorus. Dressed in garb reminiscent of the 1940’s Cam Burns plays the young Harvey and has a marvelous voice. Previously he performed for two seasons with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in A Christmas Carol and the Living Room’s production of Carousel.

Tom Lancaster, who gives such a strong performance that he is no longer performing but has become Harvey Milk, portrays the adult Harvey Milk. He has a powerful magnificent voice that was particularly entertaining when he performs I Am The Moment, “Lavender Pen.” Lancaster has been a member of the Heartland Men’s Chorus for 14 years and has appeared with Spinning Tree Theatre, Musical Theater Heritage, and the Starlight Theatre Children’s Series at the Kauffman Center among other venues.

Soprano Sylvia Stoner performs solo with I Am The Question, “Was I Wrong?” She has a wonderful operatic voice that was delightful. Her performance with the chorus of I Am The Future, “Leap” was particularly inspirational. Stoner appeared in the world premiere of the opera Darwin produced by the New Ear Ensemble in collaboration with the Owen/Cox Dance Group. Last spring she was a featured soloist with the Topeka Symphony and is scheduled to perform concerts at Washburn University, the Westport Arts Series, and Venue Visitation.

The combined Gateway and Heartland chorus blended so smoothly that it felt as if they had always been one huge chorus. Act II brought the breath-taking performance of “I Am The Bullet,” which brought standing ovations from members of the audience. John Edmonds and Brandon Shelton were tremendous as soloist with the chorus for I Am The Castro, “Friday Night in the Castro.”

I Am Harvey Milk continues on Sunday March 30 at the Folly Theater.

HMC keeps the “brrs” at bay

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli |

Baby, It's Cold OutsideDespite the frigid air, Heartland Men’s Chorus fans were warmly welcomed with carols in the lobby courtesy of HMC’s vocal subset the HeartAches. A highly rhythmic rendition of “The Little Drummer Boy” full of unexpected harmonies opened the concert on stage, followed by the “Shades of Christmas” medley starting with “White Christmas” and “Blue Christmas.” The HeartAches made its first appearance on stage for the third of this set, “Lavender Christmas,” a cheeky take on being gay during the holidays, and the final chorus of the medley was a brilliant juxtaposition of all three tunes.

Continuing the colorful Christmas theme was “Black Christmas” featuring a septet of the African-American members of the chorus engaging in good-natured observational banter about Hollywood and the music industry’s lily-whiteness when it comes to holiday classics. The song’s droll lyrics had the audience in stitches and it was a definite highlight of the program.

The next few songs shifted gears from boisterous to subdued, starting with an a cappella “Ave Maria,” during which the chorus displayed a balanced sound with expert dynamics. The polyphony in this one was welcome and built to a robust conclusion. The dark, nostalgic “The Chanukah Song (We Are Lights)” and “Our Stockings,” lovingly dedicated to HMC’s Ad Astra members (choir members who have passed away), were the requisite heartrending works of the evening.

Closing out the first half was the titular piece, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” with the chorus splitting down the middle to play the song’s two characters, and “Tropical Holiday Jingle Bells,” complete with choreography and a Hawaiian shirt-laden dance team. This version of “Jingle Bells” showed off additional percussion techniques from drummer Ray DiMarchi (moose call, vibra-slap) and was a workout for pianist Lamar Sims, too. Frequent soloist from the chorus Kelly Marzett, a natural in the spotlight, dressed in drag a la Carmen Miranda for an entertaining feature.

After kicking off the second half with “Sparklejollytwinklejingley” from the Broadway musical Elf, Santa Claus ruled the rest of the concert, from the sea of red suits and white beards in the choir to the selection of repertoire. The high-energy “A Song of Santa” medley offered bits of pop hits like “Little Saint Nick,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Santa Baby.”

“Yes, Virginia (There is a Santa Claus)” was carried by a substantial solo part sung by Daniel Alford, with temperate vibrato, plenty of emotion, and excellent intonation and projection. Alford wasn’t the only soloist displaying these qualities through the evening, as several HMC members enjoyed the spotlight briefly, all of whom are deserving of praise for their confidence and style, but too numerous to list here.

Baby, It's Cold OutsideThe HeartAches returned during the second half with “Boogie Woogie Santa,” a rock n’ roll tune on which the octet blended well and delighted in some light comedic acting. Kelly Marzett also returned in character for the second half, this time as a frustrated and frisky Mrs. Claus for the jazzy “Santa, Won’t You Please Come Back.” Despite a brief lyrical brain freeze (ahem) during one of the verses, Marzett recovered with humor and poise. “The 12 Rockin’ Gays of Christmas” gave guitarist Rick Bacus a chance to show off and the dance team rocked out choreographed life-sized puppetry downstage, but some of the choir’s lyrics were lost in the din.

While definitely a fun and happy holiday celebration, Baby, It’s Cold Outside was also bittersweet in that it marked artistic director and conductor Joe Nadeau’s final concert weekend with HMC, as he has accepted the post of artistic director with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Before the concert’s finale, surprise guest and friend of the chorus Marilyn Maye appeared and said a few words about Nadeau’s time with the group, and the legacy he created here. Heartfelt yet full of her signature sharp wit, Maye presented her own lyrical spin on “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe” in tribute to Nadeau, prompting a well-deserved standing ovation for HMC’s departing artistic director of 15 years.

Maye joined the choir for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to end the concert, followed by two encores: Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which Nadeau confessed he had been wanting to program for a long time, and the poignant “Never Ever” from Robert T. Seeley’s song cycleNakedMan.

Kudos must be paid to HMC’s stellar artistic team for its work on Baby, It’s Cold Outside. The lighting and scenic design, costuming, and choreography enhance every HMC concert from small touches such as individual props for each chorus member to large-scale set pieces flanking the ensemble, and this production was no exception.

Heartland Men’s Chorus
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
December 6–8 (Reviewed Friday, December 6, 2013)
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO

Marilyn Maye surprises the audience at ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

Steve Wilson |

Baby, Its Cold OutsideWith temperatures below freezing the Heartland Men’s Chorus Christmas program was aptly named Baby, It’s Cold Outside. The 28th season opened on Friday, December 6 at the Folly Theatre, in downtown Kansas City.

Dr. Joseph P. Nadeau made his last appearance with the chorus before he relocates to Los Angeles, California to become Artistic Director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Nadeau has spent 15 years with the Heartland Men’s Chorus and outlined the 2013-2014 season productions before knowing he was leaving for the west coast. In 2002 under his direction, the chorus performed in London, Paris, and Hamburg completing a European tour.

Wonderful music, humor, traditional and not-so traditional holiday songs filled the stage for Friday night’s program. Humorous songs such as Shades of Christmas, White Christmas, Blue Christmas, and the Heartaches rendition of Lavender Christmas, and Black Christmaswith solos by Elven Hickmon, Kelly Marzett, Gregg Maupins, Calvin Quattlebaum, Brian Spurlock, Michael L. Wagoner, and Aubrey D. Williams filled the theater with laughter.

Whimsical songs such as Sparklejollytwinklejingley (from the musical Elf), A Song of Santa, and Boogie Woogie Santa featuring the Heartaches filled the second act. The chorus dance team made up of John Edmonds, Dean R. Faulk, Eryk Larabee, Tim Miller, David Pasley, and Michael L. Wagoner danced and flirted around the stage in comical routines set to Tropical Holiday Jingle Bellsand The 12 Rockin’ Gays of Christmas.

The overall show was highly entertaining and well produced. The only slight glitz in an otherwise fantastic show was when Kelly Marzett, as Mrs. Claus, and who sang Tropical Holiday Jingle Bells in Act One, forgot some of the words to the song and referred to a small note book apparently containing the words.

Kansas City legend Marilyn Maye made an appearance just before the last song of the chorus began the last song. Not listed in the program she said she had to come out and thank Dr. Nadeau for the work and dedication he had shown to the chorus over the years. She sang a song that she had written about him before joining the Heartland Men’s Chorus in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Board Chair Keith Wiedenkeller presented Dr. Nadeau with a special Heartland vest and baton for his service to the chorus.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside is a grand way to bring on the holiday season and continues through Sunday, December 8 at the Folly Theatre.

Heartland Men’s Chorus festoons the holiday with spirit-filled concert

Baby, Its Cold OutsideBob Evans |

Brrrr…..the temperature fell to more than frigid, and, yes, baby, it’s cold outside; but inside Kansas City’s Folly Theater, the atmosphere is anything but chilling. As a matter of fact, it’s warm, inviting, and invigorating as the Heartland Men’s Chorus presents its annual holiday concert for the Christmas season, Baby It’s Cold Outside.

Fun, spectacular, exciting, uplifting, funny, heartfelt–all describe the evening of music and laughter. Expect high level entertainment and family fun and a two-hour escape from the near 0 temps that blew into the area recently.

Each act presented so many opportunities for the audience to laugh and smile. Act I started with a new and upbeat take on “The Little Drummer Boy,” followed by the Charlie Brown standard, “Christmas Time Is Here.” After that, the fun began with a medley entitled Shades of Christmas. The medley featured three vastly differing views of Christmas–white, blue, and lavender–yes,lavender. While everyone knows the first two Christmas standards, they have probably never heard them preformed together like the HMC did. Then, to add a fabulous touch, the Heartaches, the select group from HMC, entered to perform a comedy piece, “Lavender Christmas.” Then all three pieces blended to one last chorus of each of the three selections. Boisterous applause displayed the audiences enjoyment.

After that stirring, humorous number, all the Black members of the chorus assembled to protest the lack of color in all previous TV Christmas specials before they burst into their stylized protest song, “Black Christmas,” to the delight of the near capacity crowd.

HMC celebrated diversity and inclusion in its efforts to reach out, educate, and include everyone. As such, the programs always feature sign language for a way to reach hearing impaired individuals. Christmas concerts always include a Chanukah song.

Also, included in Act I, a tropical spin on “Over the Rainbow,” and many other standard Christmas carols added to the festivities along with a fun adaptation of the title song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.”

After intermission, HMC jettisoned into high speed and delivered dose after dose of fun entertainment complete with dancers, puppets, a drag queen, the Heartaches, and a special surprise guest to end the show. Even though the names of the songs are unknown, the entertainment value built with each selection while the HMC preformed all of Act II in Santa Claus outfits–other than the Heartaches as reindeer and the dance team as elves. Each song built on the rapturous applause of its predecessor.

To end the show, the surprise guest came onstage to join HMC for a rousing version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” But that’s not the end.

Baby It’s Cold Outside signaled the end of a 15-year association with artistic director, Joe Naeau. Noticeably touched by his past service and pending departure to a bigger venue in California, HMC President of the Board, Keith Wiedenkeller presented Nadeau with a framed baton, vest, and bow tie to symbolize the HMC. With heartfelt gratitude and noticeably emotional, Wiedenkeller fought for words to convey his earnest gratitude to Nadeau. The standing ovation for the presentation demonstrated the amount of love between the audience, the HMC, their director, and the family that they all created over his 15-year tenure. It’s obvious his talent and presence will be missed while his past dedication continues to elicit fond, familiar remembrances.

Only two opportunities remain to experience probably the most joyful Christmas concert of the Christmas season. HMC performs the best, brightest, and most fun holiday show in Kansas City. To be thoroughly entertained, run don’t walk to the HMC website or call the box office for tickets. The show is astounding and highly recommended for family entertainment. For information:

Heartland Men’s Chorus brings music and humor into the holiday season

Baby, Its Cold OutsideDebra Globoke |

The Heartland Men’s Chorus is at it again. They have figured out how to combine traditional Christmas music with a wide variety of holiday music to present a heart-warming and joyous performance with Baby, It’s Cold Outside, this weekend at the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Missouri. With such a wide variety of music, everyone is sure to find enjoyment in this performance.

The concert begins with The Little Drummer Boy, which can be previewed at This link provides a video of a rehearsal version of this Christmas classic, done in the Heartland Men’s Chorus style. Following this opening, they move into a variety of colorful Christmas tunes, including Lavender Christmas and Black Christmas–both of which brought the audience to rollicking laughter. More solemn music followed, briefly, with more upbeat music to lead up to the intermission. After the intermission, the focus was on Santa Claus, with the Chorus members being dressed in Santa outfits. A variety of skits added to the music provided throughout the second half–most of which were hilarious. Smiles aplenty.

A very special treat of the evening was provided by Marilyn Maye making a guest appearance. This weekend’s performances are the last for Dr. Joseph P. Nadeau, as the Artistic Director of the Heartland Men’s Chorus. He has been in Kansas City, with the Chorus, for fifteen years. He is leaving for California, to conduct the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus. Ms. Maye sang a song for Dr. Nadeau and then sang with the Chorus. She was a glorious addition to the evening.

Once the scheduled performance was complete, two encores followed. Each of these songs have a special meaning to Dr. Nadeau and to the Heartland Men’s Chorus, and were fitting as a proper way to end the two hour performance.

Colossians 3:16-17 says, “Christ’s message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct one another with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to your God with thanksgiving in your hearts. Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father,” (Good News Bible, 1978, New York, NY: American Bible Society). Music brings joy to God and to each of us. This event provides a variety of music for everyone to enjoy.

The Folly Theater provides a good seat to everyone. Parking is convenient, as well; although it can be somewhat pricey depending on the particular lot chosen. Refreshments of cookies and beverages are available prior to the concert and during intermission at a reasonable price. Good tickets are still available for the remaining performances, which are tonight (December 7) at 8:00pm and tomorrow (December 8) at 4:00pm. Tickets start at $15.00 and go up from there. Order your tickets now and be prepared to get in the holiday spirit–the Heartland Men’s Chorus way.

Heart and soul to spare

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli |

Heart and SoulHeartland Men’s Chorus transported its full-house Folly audience back to the early days of doo-wop and rock n’ roll last weekend with its 27th season finale, “Heart and Soul: Music of the 1950s.”

Bespectacled in iconic black plastic Buddy Holly frames, the gentlemen of Heartland Men’s Chorus opened the concert with a medley of “Music, Music, Music” and the concert’s namesake, “Heart and Soul.” This medley perfectly set the tone for an evening of happy times via the infectious tunes of doo-wop and rock n’ roll’s early days.

Common for many HMC presentations, a dance troupe joined the singers for several selections on the program. Dressed in appropriately poofy 1950s poodle skirts, nerdy plaid button-downs, and pitch-perfect greaser garb, the ten dancers punctuated the songs with classic dance moves throughout, from Elvis Presley’s loose hips on “Jailhouse Rock” and “Blue Suede Shoes” to swing-influenced steps on “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay,” and, of course, the hand jive on “Willie and the Hand Jive.” The male dancers took on the breezy choreography on “Jamaica Farewell” and the ladies enjoyed a spotlight on “Mona Lisa,” humorously recreating the famous painting. Though not always perfectly coordinated, I think had the dancing been tightly together it would have been too rigid for the show’s light atmosphere.

HMC’s small ensemble the Heartaches (this time as a sextet) was featured prominently throughout the evening, and rightfully so. Their harmonic intonation and vocal blend was well suited to the doo-wop sound on “Standing on the Corner” and “Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream).” Members of the Heartaches stood out as soloists on tunes with the full chorus as well, notably Jeff Williams’s ringing tenor and steady vibrato on the first half closer “Be My Love,” and a gloriously hammy and theatrical “I Went to Your Wedding” sung by John Edmonds. Another superb solo was Todd Kendall Gregory’s falsetto lead on “Why do Fools Fall in Love,” complete with stylistic melismata and embellishments.

Heart and SoulEach half of the concert included sets of medleys, starting with a boisterous audience sing-along in the first half in the tradition of 60s television host Mitch Miller on songs like “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and ‘Heart of My Heart.” Also on this medley, chorus member Josh Krueger gave a stellar solo on “Hot Diggity.” Guitarist Rick Bacus and drummer Ray DiMarchi stole the show with their rockin’ solos on the Elvis Presley medley in the second half, and “Love and Marriage” in the medley of wedding songs allowed for a lighthearted commentary on marriage equality today in the United States, arranging the tux- and gown-attired dancers in all combinations of bride-and-groom duos possible.

Artistic director and conductor Joseph Nadeau gave a historical note to introduce the concert’s token moment of gravitas, a tender rendition of the 1953 song “Secret Love” from the film Calamity Jane. The men sang the song’s heartfelt sentiment with sensitivity and emotion while Lamar Sims impressively handled the involved piano part. HMC had another powerful, emotional offering this evening with a rich, full sound on its encore, “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel—a moving, heartrending conclusion to the chorus’s 27th season.

Thanks to excellent arrangements by David Maddux, the chorus shined as a whole on this concert more than any other HMC show I’ve attended. Despite a minute number of hesitant entrances and unclear tongue-twisty lyrics, the chorus overall had strong projection and intonation, moved together well through transitions and any section’s counterpoint, and kept the energy level up all night. As a community or amateur ensemble, HMC is a cut above with its attention to detail with props and costumes, and the singers’ utter commitment to and enthusiasm for making music together, apparent in their facial expressions and body language during every performance.


Heartland Men’s Chorus
Heart and Soul
June 8–9 (Reviewed Saturday, June 8, 2013)
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit

Love’s boundaries in 1920s and 30s Berlin

Anthony Rodgers | KC

The Emcee and the ChorusTime travel is no easy task—perhaps even impossible!—but the Heartland Men’s Chorus went back to pre-WWII Berlin, performing various numbers from the period and Cabaret and taking the audience of the Folly Theater with them. The group also gave the regional premiere of For a Look or a Touch by Jake Heggie, featuring guests baritone Morgan Smith and actor Kip Niven for a journey through—and across—time.

Beginning with “Wilkommen” from Cabaret, the stage was set for a night of song and dance highlighting the musical styles of the 1920s and frivolity of all in the hopping jazz clubs in Berlin. Masterfully arranged by Eric Lane Barnes, numbers included the spectacular Yiddish tune “Bei Mir bist Du schoen,” Weill-Brecht collaborations such as “Bilbao Song” and “Mack the Knife,” and the Cole Porter hits “Love for Sale/What Is This Thing Called Love?” A group of dancers featured in various numbers throughout the act were highly entertaining if not the most trained in this art. Wilson L. Allen acted as emcee for the production, narrating the storyline and providing comedic commentary on the performers, all with an exceptional singing voice, gender-blurring appearance, and unobtrusive German accent. A chamber orchestra of cabaret-like instrumentation was light and well balanced within themselves and with the large chorus. Overall, the vocal ensemble was musically engaged and blended sweetly, particularly when the parts harmonically divided, although there were moments in which they felt reluctant to enter creating a slight distraction from the arrangement. The standout group of soloists from the night were featured as characters in “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” notable for their humorously large props. Sounding like a collegiate fight-song, the gay anthem “The Lavender Song” was full-voiced, rousing, and still inspiring. The whole act was a show from beginning to end, flowing smoothly and transporting the Folly audience to the raucous intimacy of the cabaret.

Although times were as fun as the show’s first act, a new German regime in the 1930s changed the attitude toward homosexuality, reinforcing it as criminal love, and so the second half of the evening’s performance took a similar turn to the serious. Jake Heggie’s one-act opera For a Look or a Touch sets the tale of two young, gay lovers that were separated by death but reunited on the stage by their own words. Stirred from his sleep, Gad Beck (Kip Niven) sees the ghost of his former lover, Manfred Lewin (Morgan Smith), and discusses the struggles they both faced in and out of the Nazi concentration camps. Taken from the journals of Manfred and an interview with Gad from the 2000 documentary Paragraph 175, the words of the men are combined into a dialogue that is as cathartic for the audience as it is for those on stage.

Guets artists Morgan Smith and Kip NivenNiven was dynamic as Gad, delivering the spoken memories with conviction and even offering a few moments of comedic relief. Smith’s velvety voice was malleable, comfortable in both operatic and jazz settings, although some technical issues existed with almost constant feedback from his microphone, and together, their chemistry was organic in juxtaposing the torment of the concentration camps with the torture of surviving with pain and guilt. Similarly changing styles with ease, the chamber orchestra featured a group of talented soloists Stephen Plante danced beautifully during the recollection of “The Story of Joe” and violently demonstrated a conflict of obedience and rebellion within the character tormented by the camp guards. Although there were some moments of hesitancy, particularly with the group singled out to dance and flirt with Smith during “Golden Years,” the chorus provided a wonderful background both visually—many wearing the striped uniforms of the camp with the pink triangle of marked homosexuality—and musically, supporting the solo lines and blending well with an evocative energy.

Combining the eccentric with the somber, HMC still made the effort to not add extra commentary on a modern society with their presentation of the two contrasting adventures. And with such great charisma and uniqueness, it’s no wonder that the Folly Theater was full for their spring concert, which left us with the reminder to just have fun, because life really is a cabaret.

Heartland Men’s Chorus
Falling in Love Again
Saturday, March 23, 2013 (Reviewed)
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Folly Theater
300 W. 12 St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit

The Holocaust is remembered in “Falling In Love Again”

Steve Wilson |

Guest dance soloist Stephen PlanteA blanket of fresh snow made the Heartland Men’s ChorusSpring Show seem more like a winter show. The harsh winter weather was not able to halt the production of a strong, moving performance by the chorus. “Falling In Love Again” ran on the stage of the Folly Theater, in downtown Kansas City, on Saturday and Sunday. The production was presented in conjunction with the Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-1945 exhibit at the Dean’s Gallery in the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri at Kansas City campus.

Wilson L. Allen was fabulous as the emcee for act one, “Life Is A Cabaret”. Allen entertained the audience with subtle humor and a beautiful voice which was accompanied by the chorus. One of the most humorous pieces was “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” in which Todd K. Gregory-Downs, Matt Patterson and Jim Harlow donned pig noses and Rob Kottenbrock wore a wolf’s head, while acting out the children’s fable.

Mark A. Lechner, Josh Krueger, Jesse C. Davis, Benjamin Helmers, Damon Jones, Jeff T. Kalin, Wilson Pipkin, Samuel W. Zorn, Steven Jeffrey Karlin as Marlene Dietrich and Scott White as Frau Schnaub were featured in solo performances during the first act, while the Heartaches took the stage to sing T’ain’t No Sin.

Act Two; “For A Look Or A Touch” included music by Jake Heggie, Libretto by Gene Scheer, Morgan Smith as Manfred, Kip Niven as Gad and dancer Stephen Plante as Joe. The Heartland Men’s Chorus, dressed in prisoner-of-war uniforms accompanied Smith in the songs. William Whitener was a Guest Choreographer for the song, “Story of Joe.”

Act one was light hearted fast paced and was highly enjoyable but didn’t require much thought by the audience. In contrast act two is a strong, powerful tale of the forbidden love of two men in Nazi Germany. Niven gives a dynamic, heart wrenching performance as the lover who survived the Holocaust. It is hard for the audience not to cry with him as he sobs while talking to the ghost of Manfred.

Smith’s voice bellowed through the theater with a haunting beauty that added to the illusion of the ghost of Manfred. While Smith sings The Story of Joe, Plante dances, visually telling of the death of a Holocaust victim. It is hard to imagine the horrors that gay men of Germany were forced to face, just because of their sexual preference. Smith was featured in the first performance of the musical in May 2007.

The music and text for the chamber opera are based on the Manfred Lewin’s journal in the United State Holocaust Memorial Museumin Washington, D.C.

Cool and marvelous

Kristin Shafel Omiccioli |

Performing for a sold-out Folly Theater last Saturday night, the Heartland Men’s Chorus continued its holiday tradition with the big band jazz-inspired program Cool Yule and special guest artist Marilyn Maye. In its first-ever collaboration with the Mid America Freedom Band, members of the group accompanied HMC as the Mighty Mo Combo. The combo laid a respectable foundation for the choir, with local trumpeter Al Pearson notably standing out as a soloist. HMC’s regular rhythm section Lamar Sims, piano; Ray DiMarchi, drums; and Rick Huyett, electric bass) kept a comfortable but tight beat throughout.

Typical of HMC shows, the first half showcased more standard repertoire including “Happy Holidays/Holiday Inn,” “Winter Weather/Let it Snow,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and “Jing-a-Ling.” The men were exceptional on these tunes—a full, meaty sound, rich harmonies, crisp diction, and strong sustain.

Chorus member John Edmonds displayed a confident, laid-back swagger during his feature, “Little Jack Frost Get Lost.” The six distinct voices of HMC’s subset ensemble the Heartaches blended well to convey a tender, affecting interpretation of the sweet “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

HMC’s set on the second half of the concert, as usual, featured more playful, silly repertoire. Donning red scarves and showing off light choreography (including jazz thumbs…) the men shimmied and swayed to “Cool Yule,” “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and more. My favorite selection of the night was “Hot Hannukah” on the second half. HMC pulled out all the stops with this one—an expressive, hammy solo from chorus member Steven Jeffrey Karlin, a polyphonic texture, high energy, Gene Krupa-style drumming by DiMarchi, and festive lighting design made “Hot Hannukah” an irresistible showstopper.

A vision in sparkling red velvet, Marilyn Maye took the stage with her combo (Billy Stritch, piano; Andy Hall, double bass; and Jim Eklof, drums) for two sets during the concert. Maye’s sets were high-spirited cabarets focused more on Broadway and big band hits than Christmas music, including “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe,” “Mountain Greenery,” and jazzed out versions of “Wouldn’t It be Loverly?” and “On the Street Where You Live” from My Fair Lady. Maye was her inimitable self, with expert showmanship and a blithe, sassy sense of humor.

Maye’s final selections brought the house down, though, holding the audience in rapt attention with these anthems of life’s mysteries, breakdowns, and wonders: James Taylor’s “Secret of Life” and the Butler/Molinary song “Here’s to Life,” made famous by Shirley Horn.

A playful back-and-forth between Maye and the men on “Big Time/Open a New Window” and “It’s Today” closed the concert, followed by an encore of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and a standing ovation. Despite a few slight performance issues—spots of imbalance, shaky intonation, and hesitant entrances—the Heartland Men’s Chorus never fails to elicit plenty of smiles, laughter, and good cheer in its always heartfelt and entertaining programs, no matter the time of year.

Heartland Men’s Chorus
Cool Yule with Marilyn Maye
Friday, November 30­­–Sunday, December 2 (Reviewed Saturday, December 1)
Folly Theater
300 W. 12th St. Kansas City, MO

Marilyn Maye and Heartland Men’s Chorus have a hit with ‘Cool Yule’

Steve Wilson |

Kansas City native and musical icon Marilyn Maye joined the Heartland Men’s Chorus at the Folly Theater for “Cool Yule, Big Jazz Band and Marilyn Maye!” on Friday night. Maye made a record 76 appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Her recording of “Too Late Now” was selected by the Arts Council of the Smithsonian Institution for its album of the 110 Best American Compositions of the Twentieth Century.

The beautiful voices of 150-plus singers combined marvelously with the Mid America Freedom Band as they opened the program with Irving Berlins “Happy Holidays” and “Holiday Inn”. The chorus performed three more songs before the Heartaches took to the stage and sung “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as a tribute for their Ad Astra group. Ad Astra is Latin for “to the stars” and the group is filled with members of the chorus who have passed this year and previous years.

After the dedication to the Ad Astra group it was up to soloist John Edmonds, who also performed with the Heartaches, to bring holiday cheer back to the audience with his rendition of “Little Jack Frost Get Lost.” In many of the programs performed by the chorus the audience has been treated to solo performances by Edmonds.

Marilyn Maye took center stage and performed several selections with her personal musicians before intermission. It is fantastic to see Maye take to a Kansas City stage one more time to entertain the audience. Her voice is as strong as ever and her showmanship is second to none. She has gotten older and may occasionally forget a word or line or verse, but she makes light of it with humor. “Little naps are great” she said after asking her conductor to begin a song over.

After the intermission the chorus returned to the stage and performed “Cool Yule”, written by Steve Allen. The next few selections including “Boogie Woogie Santa Clause” and “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas” were lively, upbeat and brought holiday magic to the audience’s ears.

Soloist Steven Jeffrey Karlin sung “Hot Hannukah” before Marilyn Maye returned to the stage and performed several more selections, some of which included the Heartland Men’s Chorus.

In this era of war, hunger, poverty, discrimination and disease it would hard to imagine a holiday season without a visit to the Heartland Men’s Chorus. This is one of the few gifts that gets better every time it is unwrapped.