Last night Hodges and Hodges were at Davies Symphony Hall where the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus presented Enchantingly Wicked, An Evening with Stephen Schwartz, and it was sensational. Guest performances from San Jose's The Choral Project and extraordinarily talented soprano Melody Moore rounded out the evening, with the pièce de résistance being the world premiere of “Testimony,” a moving piece that Schwartz wrote especially for SFGMC. What a night. Highly entertaining and chorally brilliant, Enchantingly Wicked absolutely sparkled with pizazz. Sprinkling the evening with humor as well as quietly reflective musical moments, SFGMC gave their audience a moving and transformational night that was hands down, one of the best performances we’ve ever seen.
The hugely popular ‘Chorus’ collaborated with the renowned composer and lyricist to present highlights from his best known and beloved works including Broadway’s Godspell, Pippin and Wicked and films such as Enchanted, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Prince of Egypt, and Pocahontas. Director Dr. Tim Seelig informed the audience that Schwartz had graciously “opened the vault” to his entire catalog and it was apparent that the creative team had fun choosing each song for optimum meaning and effect.
The evening began with 298 tuxedoed men taking the stage as the nine piece band began to play. It was heartwarming to see men of every color of the rainbow -- old, young and differently-abled -- represented in the Chorus, including ASL interpreter Ethan Pope who added his own magic to the stellar evening.
With the sound of a single trumpet, soloist Edwin Morales sang “Prepare Ye,” the familiar opening song to Schwartz’ Godspell (currently enjoying a hit revival on Broadway). The Chorus quickly joined in with a medley of songs from Godspell including “All Good Gifts” (a smooth Cyrus Mallere took a solo turn) and “We Beseech Thee” (the dazzling Allan “Big A” Cantada rocked it on this one). “Popular” from the musical Wicked brought the house down, with Shawn Ingram and Ken McPherson camping it up to hilarious effect for the number.
Then it was time for “Schwartz At the Movies,” with beautiful renditions from The Prince of Egypt, ‘Hunchback’ and Pocahontas. Themes of hope and the need for acceptance, diversity and understanding rippled through the lyrics and, much like the red AIDS awareness ribbons that each man wore on his lapel; the songs were poignant reminders that there is still much work to be done.
Finally it was time for the guest of honor. Rising up from the depths of the stage came the three time Grammy and Academy Award winner, Stephen Schwartz. He was met with wild applause and proceeded to entertain the audience with some of his favorite pieces. The man can sing and he was altogether enchanting.
The Choral Project, under the direction of Daniel Hughes, and acclaimed opera soprano Melody Moore added moments of uncompromising beauty to the evening. Other highlights included soloists Kristina Nakagawa and Ariel Buck singing “For Good” from Wicked and the Chorus singing “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted, which became a wedding song for two grooms, who kissed to deafening applause.
Executive director Teddy Witherington told the audience that when he’s asked why we need a gay chorus he tells people that “To accept us you must know us. Our message is music and one note at a time we change hearts, we change minds, we change votes and we change lives.”
Certainly that was the case with the world premiere of “Testimony.” In collaboration with Dan Savage and the It Gets Better Project, Schwartz’ choral piece is “based on the life-changing words expressed by participants in the ‘It Gets Better Project,'" which reaches out to stigmatized gay youth to let them know that it does, indeed, get better. We don’t think there was a dry eye in the house and, as the song journeyed from hopelessness and despair to acceptance and joy, the audience spontaneously rose to their feet in a heartfelt and teary-eyed ovation. “Testimony” was, in a word, transformational.