30 Years Young

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com July 31 2009 11:00 PM ET

The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles kicked off its 30th year with a show at the Walt Disney Concert Hall that was as touching as it was exciting. Joley Fisher, the emcee for the evening, took the reigns to drive the show through the type of concert you would expect from the a chorus of such caliber; songs ranging from Spanish ballads, show tunes, and spirituals, all with messages to fight for equality.

The concert kicked off with a choreographed arrangement of the prologue from Ragtime, a jazzy, expository act, chronicling the cultural shifts at the turn of the last century. Christine Chavez, activist and granddaughter of pioneer Cesar Chavez introduced "Solidaridad," and "Cancion con Todos" both songs that stress inclusiveness, and fighting for justice. Right after came "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," introduced by Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, Donzaleigh Abernathy. She told the audience about upbringing in the civil rights era, and her father, Ralph David Abernathy, working with her uncle to spread the message of non-violence and equality.

"My father, and my uncle would have been proud to have stood here today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles," she said to roaring applause.

The incomparable Della Reese next took the stage, singing in her familiar, velvety voice. In a wise, and all-knowing tone, Reese sang "I've Been Touched by an Angel" the intended theme song for the show in which she starred from 1994-2003. Next she sang "Work it Out," an upbeat tune that sent the chorus dancing in the risers.

Erin Hamilton successfully took on one of the most poignant songs of the last century, John Lennon's "Imagine." After, she led the chorus to perform her 1999 song, "One World." The first act of the show closed out with two songs from The Tender Land, "Stomp Your Foot" and "Promise of Living."

After a brief intermission and a lighthearted a cappella rendition of Starland Vocal Band's hit, “Afternoon Delight,” musician Levi Kreis took the stage to premier a new song of his, “Look How I’ve (We’ve) Grown” and the theme song for Del Shores’s “Sordid Lives.” Fischer came back to introducer herself in a bawdy performance, singing about how all the good men are gay – the classic straight girl nod to her pals.

The second half of the show dealt with the timeliest of issues for the LGBT community in Los Angeles, defeating Proposition 8, which would ban same-sex marriage in the California if voters approved it this November.

Actor George Takei and his partner Brad Altman appeared to announce their support for the Gay Men’s Chorus, and to stress the importance of defeating Proposition 8. The two plan to marry in September at the Japanese American National Museum. “What’s great about the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles is that they’re really the voice of the LGBT community in Los Angeles,” Takei said after the concert.

Altman, added that the magnitude of the evening was illustrated by the venue itself. “The Walt Disney Concert Hall is basically LA’s version of Carnegie Hall in New York, so for a group like this to perform here is indeed an honor.”

The pair introduced Lorri Jean, the executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, who gave a stirring speech on the importance of staying active in the fight for marriage equality.

The chorus topped off the evening with a sequence of songs celebrating the rites of marriage, performing “Anything for Him” from Kiss of the Spider Woman, “Love and Love Alone” from The Visit, and “Married” from Cabaret. Next was a tearful rendition of “We’ve Only Just Begun,” a classic Carpenter’s song that left few dry eyes in the audience and on the stage. The night capped off with a joyous song and dance to “A Brand New Day (Everybody Rejoice)” from the 1977 musical, The Wiz, and then a soft, touching encore of xxxx.