F ew of us could look equally at home in a black tuxedo and a red sequined gown, but the members of the New Haven-based Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus make it look easy.
Founded in 1986 as the state’s first openly gay performing arts organization, the Chorus was literally a chorus, risers and all, to start. In the early 90s it blossomed, putting on fully staged musical revues laced with irreverent comedy and parody. The breakthrough event for the CGMC came in 1995 with a sold-out concert at the Shubert—a tribute to the Armed Forces during the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Don’t ask? Do tell.
Since then, the group has had fun satirizing such personalities as Liza Minelli and Martha Stewart, poking the ribs of political personages like Richard Nixon and George and Laura Bush and lampooning such movie and television icons as The Beverly Hillbillies, Star Trek and Legally Blonde.
Sometimes reality intrudes, though. Economic considerations forced the CGMC to take a hiatus last year from its typical entertainment schedule. The price tag to rent big theater space can run up to $45,000, and, in an uncertain economy, it felt like too big of a risk for this non-profit organization run essentially by volunteers to take.
But it seems things are back on track now. Greg McMahan, the current music director, and Winston Clark, the former music director who travels in from Pennsylvania and is now artistic consultant and pianist, have rallied the troops and are striking a new balance between whimsy and poignancy in the group’s work this year. McMahan lauds Clark’s “humor and twists” and says the group is in “the middle of a rebirth.”
The reborn CGMC tested its updated approach in April with a trio of sold-out performances at the intimate Lyric Hall in Westville. Those “Unplugged” shows were repeated last month in New London. In December, the holidays will once again ring with the joyous tenor, baritone and bass voices of the 24-member chorus at its new home, the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School Main Stage Theater, just 500 feet from the Shubert, which will handle all ticket sales. The working title for the performance is “Red Suits and Kinky Boots,” and that’s all many of us need to hear to start marking our calendars.
But you don’t have to wait until then to enjoy the company of CGMC members. This Sunday from 5-8 p.m., a $5 admission fee gets you onto the back patio at 168 York Street Cafe for the last “T-Dance” (a variation on “tea dance”) of the summer, which includes an all-you-can-eat barbecue-style buffet and will benefit the Chorus.
Or you can attend the next CGMC-sponsored “Bingomania!” party at the New Haven Annex Club (554 Woodward Avenue, New Haven; take exit 50 off I-95), scheduled for Saturday, September 21, at 7 p.m., which has a saucy “Hot for Teacher” theme. Your hostess extraordinaire will be Miss Joan Crawford, wonderfully believable in the hands of CGMC member Joe Evangelista. His Joan character grew out of a “way-over-the-top parody” that has “become an extension of myself,” explains Evangelista, who continues, “I use my own personality, with wig, makeup and custom costume. I’m a socially gracious Joan, with a little evil Joan bubbling under the surface if Bingo is called too early.” By day, he sells advertising for the chorus and the New Haven Symphony, and also teaches piano.
For years, Joe has assumed Joan’s persona for the monthly event while calling Bingo numbers, running side games, giving out prizes (which are typically valued at over $2,500 total) and telling jokes (clean and not) for a sizeable crowd of players, including plenty of “Bingo Virgins” playing the game for the first time.
Capturing the duality of the CGMC, each month has an earnest charity beneficiary and an outrageous theme. August’s, respectively, were the Hamden-based Where the Love Is dog rescue and “Shark Bait Bingomania,” which pinged recent cultural events including the premiere of the absurdist Syfy TV movie Sharknado in July and Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” broadcasts earlier in August. The dog rescue received towels, blankets, toys, treats and Pedigree and Purina One food for its needful pooches; Joan wore a sequined mermaid costume in a rainbow of blue, gold and silver worthy of the red carpet.
The Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus
Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photography courtesy of the CGMC.