BWW Reviews: Loving Each Feather and Spangle of A GAY MAN'S GUIDE TO BROADWAY
Bob "Wanda Mae" Wonneberger was a man loved by many. As one of the founding members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, D.C., Bob continued singing with the chorus for 21 seasons before his passing in 2002.
Jeff Buhrman has been the Artistic Director of the Gay Men's Chorus for 13 years and involved with the chorus for 25 years before taking his last bow as director at last night's concert.
There's a lot these two men have in common.
They both helped build the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington D.C., they both contributed enormously to the arts community in our nation's capital, and perhaps most importantly - they are gay men who accomplished something revolutionary.
In the 1980s, the gay community was fighting the scourge of AIDS. We would get turned out of restaurants. Dry cleaners wouldn't clean our clothes, even hospitals were turning down patients who they suspected might be gay. It was then that something amazing occurred - the gay community pulled together in unimagineable ways - we built our own restaurants, dry cleaners, clinics - and when no one else wanted to take care of us, we took care of ourselves. It was during this time that the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington D.C. was formed and choruses just like it around the country.
The idea that nearly 35 years later, a chorus made up of 300 openly-gay men can exist is far more inspirational than most of us can imagine. Bob and Jeff grew up in a world where the act of being open about who you are was dangerous, yet there they were - creating art to inspire change and rallying hundreds onstage and thousands offstage to stand with them. As if that weren't enough, Wanda Mae was doing it in a dress and heels.
One other thing that Jeff and Bob had in common was their love of Tony Award-Winner Laura Benanti. You see, Bob "Wanda Mae" Wonneberger was Laura's favorite uncle. And Laura sees the chorus as an extension of her Uncle Bob whose spirit was right there for every beautiful note, feather and glimmer of glitter in yesterday's concert.
"A Gay Man's Guide to Broadway," though a bit redundant in its titling, was a delightful romp highlighting not just LGBT characters, but equality overall throughout musical theatre history. Opening with "Hello" from the still-impossible-to-snag-a-ticket-to Book of Mormon through a stirring a cappella arrangement of "I Dreamed a Dream" (hauntingly and beautifully performed by Kevin Thomason - in the original Patti LuPone key, no less), the performance was an evenly-organized collection of well and lesser-known Broadway tunes.
As if the 200+ men's voices onstage weren't enough, Benanti joined them for a handful of group numbers and several songs she helped make famous. Her "Unusual Way" from Yeston & Kopit's Nine, has always been one of my favorite songs she's ever performed. Ten years after first performing it in the Roundabout revival, her performance of it has blossomed with life experience and layers of poignancy I never thought possible.
At times, I've thought Laura was born at the wrong time, with the looks and elegance of a 1940s screen star, she also adds a vitality to classics such as Jerome Kern's "I'm Old Fashioned," Lerner & Loewe's "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore," and a glorious "I Have Dreamed," from The King & I. She does so without ever losing an ounce of the genuine intent from writers who wrote these songs decades before she was born.
As I'd mentioned, the evening was balanced extraordinarily well between the chorus and their special guest. Highlights of the event included a well-tapped "Anything Goes," with soloist Joshua Bennett, the titular song from Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park with George," "Raise You Up/Just Be," Broadway's newly-minted gay anthem from Kinky Boots, and a solemnly defiant "I Am What I Am" from La Cage aux Folles with powerful soloist Matthew Thompson.
I'd be remiss not to menion the final number of the show. Following a few speeches of farewell to their outgoing artistic director, Benanti joined them onstage once again. In a moment that I believe spoke as much to those onstage as it did to the audience, Jeff Buhrman, Laura Benanti and I'm fairly certain Bob "Wanda Mae" Wonneberger, led the 200+ revolutionary and sparkling gay men in reminding us all - "You'll Never Walk Alone."