San Francisco Music Review: SHINE: OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER! (SF Gay Men’s Chorus)

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by Chuck Louden on December 13, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

SHINE: THIS CONCERT’S SO BRIGHT,
I GOTTA WEAR SHADES

‘Tis the season for a plethora of performing arts doing their best to pierce your inner Scrooge and inject you with holiday spirit. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus did just that at their annual holiday concert, held for the first time at the War Memorial Opera House. The sold out crowd was treated to some serious nut cracking, and appeared to be as chirpy as a cricket on the hearth. But don’t despair if you missed it: SFGMC will be performing a shorter version of their holiday show, Shine, three times on Christmas Eve at the Castro Theatre.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo by Alessandra Mello Photography

Since roughly 100 men came together and performed publicly for the first time on the steps of City Hall to mourn Harvey Milk’s death in 1978, SFGMC has evolved during its unique and rich 35-year history. Throughout the decades, this amazing group has been a beacon of light for its own community, especially during the height of the AIDS epidemic; but they have also inspired the creation of other choruses, lending their professional voices to the importance of coming out and visibility. Now, led by current artistic director and conductor Tim Seelig, they are 300 men strong, and their 24th annual holiday show had just the right amount of secular and traditional Christmas music to please everyone.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo of Tim Seelig by Alessandra Mello Photography

“Ding! Dong! Merrily on High” set the tone for a festive concert. Howard Helvey’s nifty and upbeat arrangement was enlivened by the excellent work of choreographer Steve Valdez, who created a vision of intricate twirling as the men lined up on stage without missing a beat of their glorious harmony. Needless to say, the Opera House provided perfect acoustics and terrific sightlines as rows and rows of men, donned in formal black-and-white tuxedos, offered emotional and radiant tones, shifting from solemn to playful on tried-and-true Christmas classics such as “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Let It Snow,” and “Over The River and Through the Woods.”

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo by Alessandra Mello Photography

They truly shifted gears on “Nutcracker Jingles,” Chuck Bridwell’s clever version of “Jingle Bells” set to various melodies from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score. The chorus donned headpieces in a variety of colors as an homage to “Waltz of the Flowers”: A kaleidoscope of colorful daisy heads made of children’s tutus with the crotches cut out created an entertaining and enchanting effect, making this a Nutcracker as you’ve never seen it.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo by Alessandra Mello Photography

Hundreds of guys driving sonic love into the house is great, but the chorus wisely avoided any chance of monotony by breaking up into several smaller sub-groups: The Lollipop Guild, Vocal Adrenaline, and SWAG. My favorite number was “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” in which Santa’s elves performed a high-energy, visually-stunning, singing-and-dancing medley as they readied toys for their Christmas Eve delivery.

Marina Harris in San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo by Alessandra Mello Photography

Seelig, an excellent orator, kept the concert moving at a steady pace. The loquacious conductor met his match in San Francisco Opera Soprano Marina Harris. Her playful sparring with the conductor was clearly unrehearsed, and caught everybody (including Seelig) by surprise. Harris added her golden voice to the harmonious men and helped them bring a traditional carol medley, “With Harps of Gold,” to new levels. This new-generation star easily validated why SF Opera has used her in many productions this year, including world premieres of The Secret GardenThe Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Dolores Claiborne. Her second act solo on “A New Christmas Morning Hallelujah,” a spiritual folk song, exhibited both her velvety flair and dynamic tone. Add to my Christmas List the wish for a Marina Harris Christmas Recital next year.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo by Alessandra Mello Photography

The encore of “Christmas Cheer” (words and music by Eric Lane Barnes) was enhanced by none other than SF’s own philanthropic cheerleaders, “Cheer,” who added their high-kicking capers complete with a three-person-high pyramid. More cheers came from the audience than from onstage. With magnificent visuals matched by their eloquent harmonies, it’s easy to see why SFGMC has set the standard for choruses throughout the country.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus' 'SHINE - OUR BRIGHTEST HOLIDAY SHOW EVER' photo of Michael Tate by Alessandra Mello Photographyphotos by Alessandra Mello Photography

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus
SHINE: Our Brightest Holiday Show Ever!
War Memorial Opera House
played December 6, 2013
continuing at the Castro Theatre
December 24th, 2013, 5:00, 7:00 & 9:00 pm
for tickets, visit SFGMC

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

SFGMC Fan December 15, 2013 at 1:17 pm

“Vocal Adrenaline” is the group in the TV show, Glee. The small ensemble in the SFGMC is named “Vocal Minority.”

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