Topsy Turvy: A bright star in dark times

Brandi Amara Skyy reviews the Turtle Creek Chorale’s “Topsy Turvy” concert, continuing tonight and Saturday night, March 24-25, at City Performance Hall. (Photos courtesy Turtle Creek Chorale)

 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Call me a bad gay, but I had never been to a Turtle Creek Chorale concert before last night.

Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I texted a few of my closest friends who are devoted fans (and season ticket holders) to get a feel for what to expect. My good friend Dana said, “You’re in for a nice surprise. They always combine serious with comedic moments.”

He was right.

The evening was filled with … surprises — something that in this day and age of the internet is not necessarily what we expect. It’s far too easy to Google the happenings of the latest episode of our favorite shows prior to even the show airing the first time, let alone us watching it. Or to attend a show and be moved by the visuals, but not by the message.

So when I received the email with the set list being performed last evening (the names are not supposed to be known to the audience until after the show has ended), I made the decision not to open it. Because if Sean Baugh, the artistic director, wanted me to ride the wave and be surprised, I wasn’t about to deny him — or myself — the pleasure of this rarity.

And in this arena — the element of surprise — Topsy Turvy is a massive win. From song inclusion to talent to flow, Topsy Turvy does what it sets out to do — not just tell a story, but create and share an experience.

The Chorale promises “one of the most energetic and full-force arrays of musical selections our audience has ever experienced,” and I can feel, based on the audience’s energy and attention (minus the blonde wine-gulping girl sitting two seats to my left who completely ignores Rule No. 2 (Don’t Sing Along) when the finale hits) that this particular show and evening is in fact, different from all the rest.

I feel it too, even though I have no prior knowledge to compare it to.

But I’m not going to lie, this is probably the hardest review I’ve ever had to write because I refuse to spoil the experience by referring to the songs in the show by their name. So I will only reference them by the number in which they appear in the show.

The Topsy Turvy experience is billed as songs you thought you knew, and they drove that artistic theme home by reshaping pop, musical and LGBTQ classics into arrangements and styles we’ve never heard before (I’m thinking about songs 14 and 18 in particular). The visuals, the big top and all the dancers are stunning. And B.J. Cleveland is not only excellent and captivating as our ringleader, he is right there to help usher us through the two-hour experience (although I did miss him in the beginning of the second half).

The Thursday audience, teased for being the least vocal of the three-day bunch, rose to their feet for a song (hint: No. 5) and I rose for one as well (you’ll know it when you experience it). My personal favorites? Numbers 4, 5, 9,14, 17, 19, 21 (and a certain “whistler” in No. 3). These seven pieces were elegantly thought out, choreographed, and fully realized — and executed.

And while the soloists were spectacular, every single chorale member stole my heart that evening because they were so full of love for what they do. You could see it. But more importantly you could feel it.

Were some pieces in Topsy Turvy more successful than others? Yes. Were some pieces more polished? Yes. Is there room for improvement? Always.

But did the TCC deliver on their promises? Hell, yea — and then some.

What I love most about attending events, shows, and art in our community is just that. WE are a community. And both Bruce Jaster and Sean Baugh made sure to drive that point home to the audience every chance they got. And with all the talk about arts funding being cut and walls waiting to be built, we — I — needed to hear that as a community we are more inclusive now than ever.

Whether you are a devoted fan who has season tickets or you’re like me and new to the whole TCC experience, this show is a bright light in dark uncertain times, with just the right amount of camp, adult humor, laugher, nostalgia, and seriousness to keep me thoroughly invested — and entertained.

Topsy Turvy runs tonight and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at Dallas City Performance Hall.

Go.

Brandi Amara Skyy is a drag artist who writes and plays in magic. You can find out more about her and many projects at brandiamaraskyy.com.

—  Tammye Nash

‘Tyler’s Suite’ is another notch on the Chorale’s belt

Tyler-Clementi

Tyler Clementi

Heroes is a concert unlike anything else the Turtle Creek Chorale has ever done. But that just makes it like a regular evening at the concert hall with the Chorale. If the group was afraid of tackling something new, they wouldn’t have an Emmy Award or be the most recorded men’s chorus in history.

In Heroes, what the Chorale does best is let others shine and helps make those others even better, while still being fabulous on their own.

Six community groups are honored in the first half of Heroes. The organizations were chosen because of the work they’ve done helping LGBT people form families and raise children, healing spiritual wounds, stopping bullying, healing through art and  raising money to work for equality.

Wait a minute. Isn’t that exactly what the Chorale has done over the years? Of course, but nothing’s wrong with honoring friends and those we admire. And that’s what this concert does.

Short videos about each group precede a song that honors the spirit of the organization and explain its work.

I’d like to add a few words to what is expressed in the first video about Jonathan’s Place.

Jonathan’s Place is an emergency shelter for abused and neglected children who are waiting for foster or adoptive homes. The video assumes everyone knows they’re just looking for the best placement for these children, and to Jonathan’s Place that means if a trans adoptive mom is best to provide the love these children need, that’s where the child will be placed. That’s never said in the concert but this organization was a pioneer in Texas in LGBT adoption and fostering.

A warning: If you visit Jonathan’s Place, be prepared to leave upset and angry. It is infuriating to see what people have done to these children.

Each honored group was given a glass turtle, but a video shows what went into each turtle. From plaster to clay to wax to bronze to poured glass, each step fired in a kiln and cooled. Kind of one of those nothing-to-do-with-the-music things, but one of the most interesting elements of the evening, that showed what kind of love went into putting this concert together.

Among the stand-out moments from the first half was the performance of “Fight Song” for Susan G. Komen and “I Never Lost My Praise” for Cathedral of Hope. The first had the audience standing and cheering, the second had them swaying and joining in.

Eight dancers from the Bruce Wood Dance Project performed two pieces that hooked the audience. The BWDP’s next show will have to add a performance just to accommodate the new fans they’re adding from their chorale appearances this weekend.

The second half of the show is Tyler’s Suite, commissioned by the Tyler Clementi Foundation and put together by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of shows like Wicked and Pippin. Eight composers each wrote one of pieces that comprise the suite. The lyrics are by Pamela Stewart, a librettist and lyricist who also wrote the Chorale’s award-winning Sing for the Cure that took the group to Carnegie Hall.

Tyler was the Princeton freshman who committed suicide after his roommate set up a camera in their room and live-streamed and tweeted about him having sex with another man. The suite is not just about Tyler, but the people in his life who loved him. Alex Heika and Jodi Crawford Wright, as Tyler and his mom, are both superb, as are the soloists from the Chorale.

Each piece was written by a different composer and most, if not all would stand on its own. Jake Hegge’s “The Narrow Bridge” has been performed alone. “Just a Boy” is a beautiful tribute from a father to a son he’s lost. The lyrics were words Tyler’s dad sent off after not being able to sleep one night. Stewart used them. “The Unicycle Song” tells the story of a creative child ending his life.

And I know I’m not mentioning enough about the Chorale, but that’s how successfully they performed Tyler’s Suite. I was engrossed in the music without even thinking about the wonderful chorus of voices performing it.

Tyler’s Suite has been performed now by six choruses that started two years ago with Tim Seelig’s San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. In the lobby, I spoke to a couple of SFGMC board members who attended, as well as Tyler’s mom and his brother, James.

“So this was the best performance of Tyler’s Suite?” I asked. “Much better than San Francisco, right?”

Sheesh, try to get some people to open up. Some people are much more diplomatic than I am.

I loved this performance. They would only agree this was among the finest of the Tyler’s Suite performances.

Eh. What do they know. Artistic Director Sean Baugh was inspired to invite Albert Drake from Bruce Wood to choreograph the piece “Meditation.” Others didn’t have Peter Mena and Charles Mullins performing “Brother, Because of You.” The Chorale was fabulous. Tickets are still available for tonight or Saturday. Oh, on Saturday, the Susan G. Komen chorus will be joining the Chorale for “Fight Song.” Talk about heroes.

And in case you thought the Clementis were just in town enjoying great music: James said he would be speaking to classes about bullying at SMU today.

—  David Taffet

Jaster appointed permanent executive director of Turtle Creek Chorale

Bruce Jaster

Bruce Jaster

Bruce Jaster, who took quickly over as interim executive director for the Turtle Creek Chorale following the departure of the previous post-holder in January, has been confirmed as the new full-time permanent executive director, the TCC announced late Friday. The ED is responsible for the management and business side of the organization. Sean Baugh, who was made full-time artistic director earlier this spring after overseeing the most recent season of the TCC since the departure of Trey Jacobs last June, will continue to be in charge of the music, programs and singers.

Jaster received the unanimous support of the board of directors in voting him to the post. He has been on the board himself for 10 years, and spent 15 as a singing member. Since assuming the interim role, he has led the chorale through a dicey period in its history, building up its financial security and “continuing the chorale’s movement toward stability and new growth,” according to a release. Jaster was with Price Waterhouse Coopers before stepping away to take the interim position in January.

“The chorale has been a part of my life since first attending a concert on the early 1980s. To be able to now serve as executive director is a dream realized,” Jaster said.

The chorale is Dallas’ 35-year-old gay men’s chorus, one of the fourth oldest gay men’s singing groups in the U.S. It starts its 36th season Oct. 9.

When I jokingly observed that the timing of the promotion from interim to permanent looked conditioned upon the Supreme Court bestowing marriage equality, the TCC’s director of marketing Tri Truong laughed, adding, “I feel like you can spin it that way.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Chorale announces upcoming season of concerts for 2015–16

Sean-Baugh-TCC-by-HHenley

TCC music director Sean Baugh.

It was just this weekend that the Turtle Creek Chorale concluded its 35th season, and now just a few days later we know what to look forward to.

The four mainstage shows, all of which will take place at the City Performance Hall, begins with Heartland: An American Songbook, featuring everything from showtunes from Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein through folk classics by Woody Gurthie and Bob Dylan. Oct. 9 and 10.

Next up will be, of course, the traditional concert of holiday music, Home. Dec. 17, 18, 19 and 20. The spring concert is entitled Heroes, with the first half devoted to honoring members of the community who have been role models and leaders; the second half will be a performance of the choral work Tyler’s Suite, written in honor of Tyler Clementi, the gay student who committed suicide after being bullied online. March 31, April 1 and 2.

The season will conclude a year from now with the summer concert, Heartstrings, which tracks the emotional roller coaster from first date to first heartbreak, as expressed by composers from Beethoven to Lady Gaga. June 9, 10 and 11.

You can get your season tickets here or by calling 214-526-3214.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Chorale scores big bucks at Big Thickette, receives big grant

3 contestants

Lisa Condo, Aida Lott and Shebeata Pinata at the Miss Big Thickette pageant and fundraiser.

We like things big in Texas, and the Turtle Creek Chorale has had a big week.

First, their fundraising pageant, Miss Big Thickette, proved a huge success on Sunday night. Usually, the benefit for TCC’s LifeWalk team nets around $4,000 for the night; this year doubled that, with contestants (and generous supporters) ponying up more than $8,000 in donations — a gigantic step toward the LifeWalk team’s goal of $35,000 by September. The winner ended up being Shebeata Pinata, with first runner-up going to Aida Lott and Lisa Condo taking Miss Congeniality.

Then last night came word that Bloomberg Philanthropies in New York has bestrowed an Art Innovation and Management Grant on the chorale. The exact amount of the two-year, unrestricted grant is confidential, though interim executive director Bruce Jaster characterized it as “sizeable.”

Yup, we knew it — Texas is full of “sizeable” queens.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Sean Baugh named TCC artistic director

Baugh.Sean

Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Sean Baugh

Sean Baugh, who has been serving as associate artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale this season, has been named permanent artistic director.

Chorale Executive Director Bruce Jaster said the singing membership strongly supported the appointment and the announcement during the Chorale’s Tuesday night rehearsal was met with a standing ovation.

Throughout the season, Baugh has reversed declining attendance and recent shows have been sold out.

Jaster said Baugh would work with the Chorale full time and reduce his affiliation with Cathedral of Hope to part time. Thursday rehearsals and Sunday services would continue at CoH under Baugh’s direction.

“Cathedral of Hope is my spiritual home,” Baugh said. “I’m excited to be able to continue my work there as well. Both organizations are dear to me and I cannot imagine my musical life without both of them working in tandem.”

Baugh has been with the chorale nine years. He joined during former artistic director Tim Seelig’s final season. Through most of his tenure at TCC, he has been a conductor of specialty groups and has also served as an officer of the organization.

Jaster said planning has begun for the 2015-16 season that will be announced before this season’s final concert in June.

The next concert, entitled “Britain, Beatles and Bond,” takes place April 23-25 at City Performance Hall. Tickets are now on sale.

This weekend, the Chorale performs twice — at the DIFFA event on Saturday and at a memorial for former Chorale president Chet Flake at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 8 at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 6525 Inwood Road.

—  David Taffet

Turtle Creek Chorale’s 35th anniversary concert: The boys are back

IMG_9683Sometimes you don’t know how much you miss something until you find it again. That’s what it felt like Saturday night at the Turtle Creek Chorale’s 35th anniversary concert at City Performance Hall. When the curtain rose on the first half, audiences were pleased to see a full complement of tuxedoed men, ably led by interim artistic director Sean Baugh. They were delighted by the singing. But when Act 2 opened and the ranks had increased by 50 percent — and, at the end, with the addition of members of The Women’s Chorus of Dallas, fully doubled if not more — there were audible gasps from the audience. This is the chorale longtime fans remember. And many were there to walk down memory lane with Tim Seelig.

Seelig led the chorale for 20 years — from 1987 to 2007 — and has been the head of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus since 2011, so this reunion was filled with memories … not the least of which was Seelig’s gift for gab and his snarky humor, which he amply shared from the stage.

IMG_9687But it was also the performance of the chorale — not just during Seelig’s set, but Baugh’s as well — that seemed invigorated, inspired. The past two seasons have been hard ones. Baugh spoke more from the stage in six songs than I think former director Trey Jacobs did in two years, and while no one can imitate Seelig, the chorale is always best when its whimsy, sincerity and Texas personality come through. Just as important is its commitment to the gay character of Dallas, something the recently departed executive director shied away from during her disastrous tenure. All that made these past years unmemorable ones for the chorale; Saturday night was not only a concert for remembering past glory days, but — with Baugh and new interim E.D. Bruce Jaster in place — a reason to feel excited that more such days are destined for the future.

At the end, Seelig made an spontaneous plea to the audience to commit to giving — “$5, $10, $100, $10,000 if you have it” — a donation to the chorale within the next three months to keep this significant group (one of the oldest gay men’s choruses in the country, and perhaps the world’s most recorded men’s chorus of all time) alive and kicking for another 35 years. “I won’t be here then,” Seelig said, “but the chorale needs to be.” And after Saturday’s concert, it feels not like empty hope, but an actual, achievable mission.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

David Fisher steps down as executive director of Turtle Creek Chorale

David Fisher

David Fisher, who became executive director of the Turtle Creek Chorale two years ago, just as a shake-up within the organization led to the sudden departure of its artistic director, is stepping down from his post.

Fisher, who previously worked for the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, will return there, once again serving as its assistant director.

“After nearly 20 years working in the arts in Dallas, I’m grateful for my time with the chorale, and I’m thrilled to be returning to the Office of Cultural Affairs where I will be able to continue the work of fostering the growth and success of all of the arts and arts organizations in Dallas,” Fisher said. No reason was given for the move.

Hank Henley, a singing member of the chorale since 2009, will step in as interim executive director.

“Having been vice president and president of the Turtle Creek Chorale, I’m thrilled to be serving this wonderful organization in yet another way,” Henley said in a statement. The board, as well as Henley and current artistic director Trey Jacobs, will immediately begin a search for Fisher’s permanent successor.

“Hank’s experience and passion will serve us well in this role, and we look forward to working with him,” said Zan Moore, Turtle Creek Chorale’s board president.

While at the TCC, Fisher led the search to replace former AD Jonathan Palant. Jacobs was named interim AD in the summer of 2011, and in the spring of last year became its permanent artistic director.

The final concert of TCC’s current season takes place next Thursday at the Meyerson Symphony Center.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

There’s still time to win a grand in the Top Hat photo contest!

Time is running out to win money. We’re not joking.

You know how EASY it is to win $1,000 for charity? Pretty damn easy! Get some kind of hat. It can be a beret. Or a snood. Or a box of oatmeal cereal. Then find a head. It can be bald. Or teased  and treated. Or on a dog. Then get a camera — even a smartphone. And take a snapshot. THAT’S IT. After that, just email it to TopHat@dallasvoice.com with the name of your nonprofit by Friday. We’ll whittle the entries down to the top nine, and the winner (chosen by Voice readers) gets a photo of them in their hat on the cover of an issue in March and a donation made in their name.

OK you members of the Turtle Creek Chorale, or volunteers for DIFFA, or chefs who donate to the food pantry, or fundraisers for AIDS Arms or ASD or Black Tie. You don’t have to sell tickets, you don’t have to make a matching contribution, you don’t have to design a denim jacket. All you need to do is take a photo and make a grand for charity. If you’re email address ends with .org, you probably already work for an eligible agency. It’s like free money! Think how you can impress your boss!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

First off, if you’re not already wearing purple today, go back home and put some on. Oct. 19 is Spirit Day, sponsored by GLAAD to draw awareness to bullying. (You can even turn your Facebook pic purple.)

Next, if you don’t already have tickets to see Madonna this weekend, good luck finding them …. though if you are going, we have a little primer for you about what to expect.

And for those who don’t have ’em and can’t afford the scalper prices anyway, this is the final weekend to see Hello Again at Uptown Players (pictured) and also Freud’s Last Session at Theatre 3.  Or you can just see a movie — and Keep the Lights On is definitely worth seeing.

For a little more interactive experience, the IGRA’s Gay Rodeo World Finals are in Fort Worth this weekend, with plenty of events and parties. While you’re in Cowtown, swing over to Bass Hall to catch Ben Stevenson’s staging of the ballet Peer Gynt. Or you come back to Dallas and  gorge yourself on Burgers & Burgundy, a fundraiser for DIFFA, on Friday night.

You can gorge yourself also on Sunday by coming to the Texas State Veggie Fair, held this year at Reverchon Park. In addition to the fried (vegan) food competition, there will be vegan food sellers and all sorts of vendors promoting a vegan lifestyle.

And the final thing to set aside time for this weekend: The Turtle Creek Chorale has its fall “Partners in Harmony” concert on Sunday at the Meyerson.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones