By Ted AYALA
Leave it to the gentlemen of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) to infuse that holiday spirit with some extra zest and flair. What could have proved to have been yet another ho-hum rendition of the same well loved, not to mention well worn, Christmas classics proved anything but.
Their “Naughty & Nice” program, which played to a sold-out audience at the Alex Theatre, was the perfect antidote to the glowering thunderheads of a looming storm front on Sunday afternoon. The moment the curtain lifted at the program’s start, whatever gloom and rainy day dreariness there happened to be lingering were quickly dispelled with a brimming cheerfulness that was all sunshine.
Whether it was their doo-wop rendition of “Mr. Grinch,” the lovely and clever use of handbells in “The Bells” or their zany, mad-cap rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus – with the lyrics displayed Olympic scoring card style – they polished these classics with a nifty, chrome sheen.
Not that their antics were Christmas-centric, mind you. GMCLA didn’t forget Chanukah. They presented a suite of Chanukah songs, which was capped – with tongue firmly in cheek – with their singing of Tom Lehrer’s “Chanukah in Santa Monica.”
But what really satisfies here is the sheer excellence of GMCLA as musicians. The chorus has long been honed into an instrument of enviable color, unanimity, and blend, which new music director E. Jason Armstrong has further refined. Not for nothing were these gents chosen to join the masses of musicians singing their hearts out in February when Los Angeles Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel conducted Mahler’s massive “Symphony No. 8” at the Shrine Auditorium. Accompanying from the piano was Michael Alfera, whose superb, limpid touch added even more class to the proceedings.
Not that GMCLA’s quality is some kind of secret, if their hundreds of fans that swirled out the door of the Alex – among them Ted Danson and wife Mary Steenburgen – are anything to go by.
Closing the concert was a pull-out-all-the-stops take on the song “Joyful, Joyful” – a riff off of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” – which was used to memorable effect in the film “Sister Act II.” Can’t blame the audience if that crackling and energetic performance is the highlight moment of the afternoon in their memories.
Though it was their opener, “You’re Home for the Holidays,” that really set the mood for the whole show – one of warmth and welcoming.
Theirs was a home that you wanted to linger in well into the new year.