John Long | Camp
A Liberace impersonator, magicians and aerial dancers at the Folly Theater? Why yes! After all, it is a Heartland Men’s Chorus concert.
HMC’s June concert typically takes on the theme of Gay Pride Month, and what better way this year than with a Las Vegas “over-the-top” themed concert?
“Vegas, Baby” will feature Anthony Edwards, Kansas City’s premier musical director from the local theatre scene. He has been the musical director for the American Heartland Theatre, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the Coterie and more. He now is the musical director at Starlight Theatre. And many will know him from his work at AIDS Walk every year, where he directs the musical program on stage before the walk.
For Edwards, this concert is in some ways coming back full circle.
“When I was in Kansas City years ago, I was the accompanist [for HMC”],” he said. “I also worked on the first CD they ever recorded. So it’s very interesting to continue my long history with the Heartland Men’s Chorus. That’s why the concert is so meaningful to me. I get to be with a number of men that I’ve known for 25 years. I’m thrilled to be a part of this concert.”
Longtime artistic director Joe Nadeau left the HMC to become the artistic director of the Los Angeles Men’s Chorus, and the HMC has featured guest conductors for the March and June concerts. Now the chorus has announced that they have hired a new artistic director, Dustin Cates, who will take over the reins later this summer.
Edwards said that the HMC approached him about doing the Vegas concert primarily because of his theatre background. He added that his experience with large productions at the Starlight Theatre was also beneficial.
“They [HMC”] knew that I wouldn’t be afraid of the enormity of this concert. It’s not just the chorus standing and singing. It’s Vegas, baby,” he said, with a laugh.
“The first half of the concert is Vegas of yesterday,” Edwards said “It’s before Cirque du Soleil. It includes music by many different artists, including Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, etc. The jazz sound, Liberace, and the Vegas of yesteryear. The second half of the concert is more current.”
Anthony said it includes the music of Cher, Celine Dion and Elton John as well as the aerial dancing of Quixotic. He said that working with Quixotic has been a pleasure.
“Anthony Magliano [artistic director of Quixotic”> is so inventive. They have been so incredible in their collaboration,” he said.
Edwards said that this production of “Vegas, Baby” will be different from any versions produced in other cities.
“This concert is completely unique to Kansas City. A couple of the choruses have done Vegas shows, but we’re not doing the shows they did. This is completely HMC and Anthony Edwards productions,” he said, with a laugh.
He credits the uniqueness of this concert to the collaboration of Florida-based Liberace impersonator Martin Preston — the only performer who was granted express permission by the Liberace estate to appear and perform as the pianist — as well as Kansas City area magicians David Sandy and Lance Rich, Quixotic and HMC.
The smaller HMC ensemble called The Heartaches will be performing with a Bette Midler theme that Lamar Sims, the HMC’s musical accompanist, has stylized. Members of the chorus will also appear as dancers and showgirls throughout the performance.
This concert will be performed over three days, rather than the usual Saturday and Sunday schedule, so that more people will be able to see it.
“It’s so fun for Kansas City to see different arts organizations work together and have successful collaborations,” Edwards said.
The artistic director just celebrated his 18th anniversary with his partner, Scott Henze. The couple share a Brookside home with their Cairn and West Highland terriers. Edwards moved to Kansas City in 1989 to study at the Conservatory, left briefly in 1995 to work in Denver, where he met Henze, and returned in 2000.
“We love calling Kansas City home,” he said when speaking about his career with Kansas City theatre groups. He also worked with Missy Koonce and J.D. Mann at the theatre bar and restaurant called bar Natasha, playing piano and directing talent.
“I can’t forget about bar Natasha, although there’s a lot of things about bar Natasha I can’t remember,” he said with a laugh, “and you can quote me on that.”
Heartland Men’s Chorus presents “Vegas, Baby” at 8 p.m. June 13 and 14, and 4 p.m. on June 15. All performances are at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, Mo. Tickets are $15-$40 and are available at HMC or by calling 816-931-3338.