“Oscar, Tony and Friends” was the title of the June 15 show, given in Fletcher Hall of Durham’s Carolina Theatre by the Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus under its new director, Dwayne Holloway, who is also Organist-Director of Music at Raleigh’s Church of the Good Shepherd (and thus responsible for organizing the chamber music recital series there). This was the TGMC’s seventh annual spring concert and its first under Holloway, who became director only in March. It featured three guest artists – soprano Monique McDonald, baritone Robert DeSimone, and singer-actress Susan Jorenby – performing solos and one duet, with or without chorus backup.

The program was set up like a musical, divided into two acts and subdivided into scenes, with songs therein grouped thematically by subjects such as “show business,” “rainbows,” a “starry night,” and “in the spotlight,” with appropriate backdrops, props, lighting, and costumes. Numbers allowed for solo work by chorus members as well as by the guests, unison and part singing, some staging and minimal acting and dancing, all flowing along smoothly, and easily holding the audience’s attention. This was a production, not just a stand-up-and-sing program.

Songs and scenes came from stage and screen including: Gypsy , Hello , Dolly !, Mame , Annie Get Your Gun , Finian’s Rainbow , Rent , The Secret Garden , Les Misérables , You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown , The Muppet Movie , An American Tail , The Lion King . One from The Valley of the Dolls was especially arranged for this group. Particularly well realized were the “Rainbows” scene where each number featured a solo concluding with McDonald’s “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, and the medley from West Side Stor y in the “Starry, Starry Night” scene, with some hamming-it-up by Jorenby. The “All I Ask of You” duet from Phantom of the Opera by McDonald and DeSimone, “Shenandoah” with solo by DeSimone, and McDonald’s rendition of “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess were especially lovely. Not all of the four chorus members who did solo work have strong solo voices, and some had difficulty projecting, perhaps from nervousness on a first outing in this role, but neither did any crash and burn. Chorus performance was competent and entertaining throughout.

Able accompaniment was provided by pianist Ray C. Lingle III on a Schimmel lent by Ruggero Piano, whose owner’s son John was percussionist. David Kern played flute and Thomas Erdman, trumpet, and Bo Lloyd also played piano, all in the orchestra pit. Taking volume down a notch for the piano would have made for better balance in a number of spots, but no amplification was necessary for voices to carry and words to be intelligible. The house lights were completely off, so it was impossible to follow the show in the printed program (which was very well and attractively prepared with all the essential information about the songs, the group, its director, and the guests) and have a sense of where things were going and who was taking us there. This works for a musical but not for a recital of assorted songs from various musicals.

It was a very large if not a full house, and the audience was enthusiastic, often beginning to applaud before the last note had died, and applauding throughout the chorus’ encore repeat of “That’s Entertainment” to the extent that the music was inaudible. Holloway has done an amazing job in three months as director and there is promise of more progress to come. Enthusiasm was also visible on the faces of the performers. Watch our calendar for future events and come out for them. The chorus hits the road soon to perform in Charlotte on June 29 with groups from there and from Asheville, and then heads to Cincinnati, OH, to participate in the GALA Choruses Eastern Regional Festival. Learn about this organization at http://www.galachoruses.org/ [ inactive 6/03 ].

So, you ask, why is this being covered by cvnc? Well, two of the invited guests have careers in opera, McDonald in New York City and DeSimone, locally, where he also plays viola with the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. Four of the composers represented – Bernstein, Gershwin, Lloyd Webber, and Previn – wrote classical music as well. Some of the songs performed have become classics in their own right. While the TGMC does not have the history or standing of the Raleigh Oratorio Society (to be known henceforth as the North Carolina Master Chorale) or the Choral Society of Durham, nor has it yet reached their levels of quality, at 19 members it is approximately the same size as these organizations’ chamber ensembles which we cover. Others of their programs in the past have been more traditionally “classical” in nature. The NC Symphony often features Broadway music and non-classical singers in its Summerfest series, which we cover. The TGMC is equally deserving of coverage and critique even in a lighter, summer-pops type of program. It brought this one off very well.