On June 21, the University of Utah’s Libby Gardner Hall will feature a number of star performers including Velma Kelly, Sister Mary Clarence, Quasimodo, Lydia the Tattooed Lady and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Well, in spirit at least. For the closing concert of its smashing 25th season the Salt Lake Men’s Choir will present “Hooray for Hollywood,” complete with songs from movies like Chicago, Sister Act, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Marx Brothers’ At The Circus and, of course, the beleaguered underwater fast food worker, and more.
“After our Broadway concert last year it was a natural transition to move into show tunes,” said choir president Wesley Brady. “Most gay men can relate to show tunes from movies,” he jokingly added.
Artistic Director Dennis McCracken also said a show tunes-themed evening was the next logical step after doing a Broadway night.
“I just started looking, wanting to find something that would appeal to everybody, not just one age group, and I came upon this fabulous piece called "Cinemagic! A Medley Review of 90 Years of Music from the Movies" and just started plunking things into it until it took its own shape.”
The medley, he explained, is a 35 minute journey through 38 classic songs like “Thanks for the Memories,” “That’s Entertainment!,” “Moon River,” “Under the Sea,” and the Mary Poppins tongue twister “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” McCracken has divided the medly into five sections with 11 other popular songs placed in between. Altogether 49 songs will be represented.
“It’s really a show, not a concert this year,” said McCracken. “You’re gonna see everything from an 80-year-old Elvis to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing “Happy Trails to You” and all kinds of stuff. There’s lots of comedy, lots of things happening between the numbers.”
“I have a whole set of ballroom dancers this year doing cheek to cheek and “Steppin’ Out” from the ‘40s,” he said. Eight of the dancers are also choir members. There will also be some scenery, including an “eight or nine” foot tall Jaws shark rolling out from the wings – no small feat in Gardner Hall’s limited stage.
It’s a dramatic, theatrical way to end the 25th season for “Utah’s Other Choir,” which has come a long, long way from its beginnings in a member’s living room in 1982.
“Twenty-five years ago in Salt Lake City there were hardly any opportunities for gay men. You either went to the bars or did drag stuff,” said Brady, who has sung with the choir for 23 of its years. In 2008, however, gay men in the city have a number of groups and activities, from political and athletic groups to neighborhood potlucks. And like the city’s gay culture, the choir has come of age and out of the closet.
“We didn’t mention it [the choir’s mostly gay membership],” Brady recalled. “I even remember a time when we had people dying of AIDS in the choir and we didn’t dare use that word, because there was a lot of homophobia back then and people in the choir thought they’d lose their jobs.”
Today, of course, the Salt Lake Men’s Choir has trouble keeping up with all the jobs – or gigs – they’re asked to attend. Enter Guys Like Us, a 13-member ensemble within the choir that will debut during the “Hooray for Hollywood” performance. Along with regaling the audience with such songs as “Hit Me with the Hot Notes,” “All that Jazz” and a few numbers from the movie Dream Girls, the ensemble (of which QSaltLake editor and owner Michael Aaron is a part) will also represent the choir in smaller venues and functions where bringing in all 50-odd members would be impractical or impossible.
“It also adds a variety to the show, because with an ensemble you can do a different kind of music – like barbershop and jazz,” said Brady.
In its 25-year history, the choir has gone through several changes, including – of course – the natural handing over of leadership from one artistic director to another.
“I’m very proud to be the Artistic Director and I follow a line of a lot of great men who have done a lot of things in 25 years to keep the choir going,” said McCracken. “Some of it has been a struggle and some hasn’t. It’s a big family and like any family you deal with the good and the bad. They’re great guys we have a wonderful time.”
To sum up all this history, and to reach out to other gay people in the audience, Brady said “Hooray for Hollywood” will end with a song that is very close to his heart and one of the choir’s signature pieces: “Rainbow Connection.”
“It may be from Kermit [the Frog]’s movie but it’s a lovely song that speaks of the choir and its one song we’ve done from year to year and we’re hoping choir members from the past can come out of the audience and join us for that number. It sort of speaks to our movement and the choir.”
“If you listen to the lyrics it says a lot. Especially for gay people.”
Hooray for Hollywood will be held at Libby Gardner Hall (1395 E. Presidents Circle on the University of Utah Campus) on Saturday, June 21 at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets call the Kingsbury Hall Box Office at (801) 581-7100.
The choir welcomes all men with an interest in singing to join, regardless of sexual orientation. For more information about the choir visit saltlakemenschoir.org.