Friday, December 19, 2008

Final reviews for 2008 - West Side Story & GMCLA Holiday Concert

The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) always gives me my favorite Christmas gift: a spectacular show full of song, warmth and humor. It's much, much more than a concert, and this year's It's a Fabulous Life! at the Alex Theatre was no exception. Interweaving 8 individual remembrances that were each followed by an appropriate holiday song, it became a very special evening: some of the stories were terribly amusing like a boy's wish to be a Rockette, while others tugged heavily at the heartstrings, especially the story about losing 104 friends to AIDS and another about sacrificing one's Christmas Day to sing carols to AIDS patients in hospital wards.
From the rousing fanfare of "Joy to the World", to the unusual and dazzling arrangement of "Drummer Boy" the music was mostly traditional, pop and gorgeously sung by both chorus and soloists, under the steady baton of Bruce Mayhall. A delectable treat was a combo showtune: "We Need a Little Christmas" and "Do Re Mi", retitled: "We Need a Little Do-Re-Mi." Beautiful familiar ballads included "White Christmas", "Silent Night", "Still, Still, Still", "What a Wonderful World" and less familiar, but equally lovely: "Are You Burning, Little Candle?", "Hands" and "Together".
The group's sense of humor is always precious, original and unforgettable. This time around they offered a double whammy of Rockette numbers, including the "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" with all soldiers toppling backwards on top of each other, domino style and a colorful ice-skating extravaganza, sans ice of course! There were also some studly cowboys with an unusual headgear fetish. Oy!
This is the 30th anniversary season of GMCLA, so check their website for future events in February/March and in June 2009:
If you have never attended a GMCLA concert, it's high time you did. This is the best all-male chorus in ... perhaps on the planet.
5 out of 5 stars
The timeless musical West Side Story is rarely produced, perhaps because it is one of the most difficult to carry off...well, that is. With book by Arthur Laurents, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Leonard Bernstein - all brilliant, and original concept, choreography and direction by Jerome Robbins, one must consider the choreography alone as an overwhelming feat of genius to accomplish, let alone the close to operatic singing and passionate acting required. This show pulsates from beginning to end, and this new production from Musical Theatre of Los Angeles, under the electric direction of Kenneth Gray-Scolari and choreographer Arthur L. Ross (also A.D.) having played through December 21 at the Hudson Backstage Theatre, pulses favorably -in fact, very close to the beat of the original. It's a gigantic winner! With four nods on my year-end list: Best Lead Actress - Laura Darrell as Maria , possessing a clear soprano voice akin only to a bell, Best Featured Actress - Janet Krupin as Anita, Best Ensemble and Best Production, my only hope is that it return again in 2009 for those that did not get a chance to see it. Especially for young audiences, familiar only with the great 1960 film or perhaps not at all familiar with it, it's most definitely worth a look. One message reverberates to the rafters: stop the hatred! stop the violence! Focus on "One Hand, One Heart"/"I Have a Love (And It's All That I Need)"!
West Side Story may very well be the best musical of all time, and Musical Theatre of Los Angeles can take pride in its faithful vision, executed on a practically bare stage. This confirms my belief that an expensive, elaborate set is unimportant; it's the talent up front that wins the game.
5 out of 5 stars
Santa granted my wish:
for more info, schedule, and ticket reservations


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