colorful people on stage

“Rags to Riches” concert by One Voice Chorus

CHARLOTTE, NC – June is Pride month, a time dedicated to the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community while recognizing its activist roots, particularly in the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. In the midst of ever-present struggles for acceptance and civil rights, Pride Month holds space for the queer community to not only use their voices for advocacy, but joyously celebrate their lives and loves. One Voice Chorus holds these very values close to heart, having pursued this mission for nearly thirty-five years in the Charlotte region. Since 1989, this ensemble has brought members of the LGBTQ+ community and its allies together through song. Now at over seventy members, the group has cemented itself as a staple of the Charlotte choir scene.

dancers and singers on stage

“Rags to Riches” concert by One Voice Chorus

One example of One Voice’s lasting impact is the chorus’s sold-out run of its “Rags to Riches” performance. Friday’s evening performance was buzzing with a uniquely energetic crowd. The atmosphere immediately felt welcoming and celebratory, more like a party than any kind of formal choir concert I’ve ever attended. Drag performers wove in and out of the crowd, audience members lined up for a chance to win a raffle, and drinks flowed freely. Later in the evening, executive director Micah Deer declared the evening a “big gay house party.” In the most affectionate way, I couldn’t agree more.

The events of the night unfolded with light-hearted delight, a welcome novelty for those who might be used to a more traditional concert setting. “Rags to Riches” fuses show choir with drag and also…a game show? It’s an experience you truly must witness firsthand to fully appreciate the artistry and thought that went into creating such a performance. The concert began with a slightly irreverent “concert PSA” told through a rendition of “Skid Row” from Little Shop of Horrors. In fact, musical theatre and Glee fanatics unite, for there were plenty of Broadway tunes spun into this cheeky concert program. Combined with catchy pop hits, the evening’s selections would certainly leave you humming a song or two on your drive home.

people at a cabaret on stage

“Rags to Riches” concert by One Voice Chorus

But this show wasn’t just music. An essential part of these “Match Game” concerts that One Voice puts on is just that, a game show inspired by an American television success of the early 70s. The original, televised “Match Game” was centered around a format where contestants tried to match answers given by celebrity panelists to fill-in-the-blank questions. In One Voice’s interpretations, volunteer audience members step up to the plate to fill in the blanks and then see if the guest drag performers have similar answers to score the point. Hosted by Charlotte comedian Shaine Laine, this game show portion of the performance underscored the playful nature of the concert through humorous double-entendres and well-meaning, but sarcastic commercial breaks.

The drag panel consisted of performers impersonating a variety of cultural icons such as Liza Minnelli, David Rose of Schitt’s Creek, and even little orphan Annie. Their bold-faced and at times, hilariously shameless quips encouraged the audience to let their hair down and just enjoy an evening of funny jokes and moving music. Shaine Laine proved to be an excellently persevering host, expertly maintaining the momentum of the game show while matching the wild energies of the effervescent drag panel.

But to me, the true joy of the evening wasn’t just in the light and laughter generated by the game show format of the concert. Even in moments of humor, One Voice Chorus was able to create poignant musical moments that struck a chord with the audience. “Over the Rainbow” as performed by One Voice’s newly-formed small ensemble, Chroma, painted an unexpected beacon of hope in the first act. It was clear in this moment that the chorus wasn’t just singing another song, but instead, leading us to pause and consider just what “somewhere over the rainbow” looks like during a time like Pride month.

The most impactful performance of the evening was One Voice’s rendition of “I Sing Because I’m Happy.” Soloist Emily Greene’s voice poured over the audience with its velvety and emotional warmth before the choir joined her with full, vivacious force. It wasn’t long before the first handful of notes rang out that the theater filled with claps, and eventually, a standing ovation. The members of the choir, decked out with all outfits in all shades of the rainbow, danced freely onstage as the audience moved along. Suddenly, this not-so-traditional concert morphed into a space for fearless joy and celebration.

If you come to One Voice’s “Rags to Riches” concert expecting just another evening of delightful choral music, you will certainly leave impressed by the vocal talent of this non-auditioned choral group. But this concert went beyond just that, leaving you with the warm and fuzzy feeling that you have experienced art in its truest form: as a way to build community and embrace those who need a space to be themselves.