When I enter WCC's intimate but regal Towsley Auditorium, the Out Loud Chorus is singing "The Way You Look Tonight." This mixed chorus (meaning both men and women) is based in the gay-bisexual-transgender community, but it's "straight friendly," and membership is open to everyone. Tonight's repertoire is Oscar-winning songs, and the forty or so choir members are all dressed in black, with little bow ties and blinding white shirt cuffs and collars. They're on risers, with the director facing them in the middle.
I'm surprised to see a parent from my son's class, Trisha, performing. At school she seems so demure. Here, however, she's got true stage presence and is singing enthusiastically. She and her partner, Sandra, make their way to center stage. Sandra whispers in Trish's ear, and Trish shakes her head shyly before singing, "I really can't stay." Sandra pleads, "But, baby, it's cold outside," and the two sing back and forth, holding hands, with the persistent suitor literally falling on one knee while the object of her affection remains coy.
After the applause dies down, we have an audience sing-along. Before the last song, the director opens his arms wide and says, "And now, what can I say? We're gay! Sing it for Judy!" And we launch into "Over the Rainbow."
"The Time Warp," which follows the sing-along, is a fun romp. One male soloist comes out in fishnet and combat boots, and the whole chorus dances. During intermission children run around and the theater fills with conversation, greetings, and laughter. With the exception of a few top rows, this house is full.
The lights go down, the lush red curtain is pulled back, and choir president Connie Jones introduces "Miss Celie's Blues," from The Color Purple. She reminds us that "Miss Celie's love helped her overcome abuse and discrimination and allowed her to live her life with pride — something we can all use a little more of." Then the women's section begins singing, "Sister, you been on my mind. . . ." It's sexy and soothing.
For some reason, I find myself overcome with emotion. I try sorting it out while the chorus sings its last number, "Love, Lift Us Up Where We Belong." We stand, applauding, and the chorus launches into an encore — "The Time Warp" again. This time the audience sings and dances too.
By now I understand why I'm overwrought with sadness. I'm remembering the reality of recent malicious acts against gay folks, in addition to their long history of discrimination and physical danger. My usual response is anger, but these happy folks singing with passion and pride about love, hopes, and dreams catch me off guard. I simply cry and sing along and pray that someday, Love will lift us up where we belong.
Out Loud presents its spring concert, It's Fundamental: Let Freedom Sing!, on Saturday, June 2, at Genesis of Ann Arbor (Temple Beth Emeth and St. Clare's Episcopal Church).
[Review published June 2007]