Let’s misbehave

Turtle Creek Chorale, from Cole Porter & beyond

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

OLD  KING COLE | The Turtle Creek Chorale, led by artistic director Jonathan Palant, above, closes the season with an ode to queer American composer Cole Porter.

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NIGHT AND DAY
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. June 23 and 26 at 8 p.m. $37–$65.
TurtleCreek.org

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The name Cole Porter conjures in most people an erudite American composer, the one who wrote the witty ditty “Anything Goes.” But who knew he was kind of a perv — at least, as a lyricist?

While the members of the Turtle Creek Chorale plan to keep their composure in the upcoming concert Night and Day: The Music of Cole Porter, artistic director Jonathan Palant reveals that Porter had an edgy side. His song titles alone are some obvious giveaways, but hidden lyrics about penises and post-op eunuchs are shocking.

“He was really smart, but yeah, a little dirty,” Palant says. “We’re not singing those lyrics of course, but it’s not hard to figure it out with songs like ‘I Wanna Be Raided By You’ and ‘Rub Your Lamp.’”

And then there’s the snicker effect when Palant discusses the tunes that thread throughout the concert.

“The songs that link the show include ‘Blow Gabriel Blow,’ ‘You’re the Top’ and… yes, I know,” he says. “The TCC blows and tops Cole Porter — that could be your headline!”

The concert will, in true Turtle fashion, feature a heavy dose of fabulousness. It isn’t just a celebration of Porter, it’s a choral romp with showmanship. Michael Serrecchia directs and choreographs the show, which will feature the Turtle Tappers, a group of 15 dancers with a twist, dueting puppets, circus clowns and strongmen. Add featured vocalist Denise Lee and lead dancer Jeremy Dumont, and it will become an event.

Even while steeping in standards from the American Songbook, Palant and Serrecchia bring a modern take to the program with some mashups, like Lee fusing “Let’s Misbehave” and “Let’s Fall in Love” in what Palant calls “a duet with herself.” Yeah, and puppets.

“She’s so funny and clever,” he says. “The puppets are twins but she’s the voice. We’re thrilled to welcome her back to the stage. She has such a rapport with the men and the audience. You just fall in love with her.”

“This is very much a fun, Friday night out at the movies show,” Palant says. “It doesn’t pull at heartstrings, there’s no memorial, no loss but not ‘ooey gooey.’ It’s just fun and people can come and enjoy. They don’t have to think, they can just be entertained — which is one of the pillars of our mission.”

With that, he does hint at what to expect in the near future. The chorale will mark its upcoming 32nd season with special guests including the Fort Worth Symphony and the return of the United States Army Chorus.
And, Palant promises, “an ode to Madonna.” Both Madonnas, actually.

Until then, it’s about Cole Porter and what he wants the audiences to not only enjoy, but learn from. Palant bets people are more familiar with Porter than they think: His melodies permeate everything from commercials to elevator music. For Palant, that is part of Porter’s legacy and magic.

“When I listen to the radio, I go through the station until I find a song I like,” he says. “Then I stay on that station to hear other songs. Porter’s music transcends through history and sparks familiarity, so people will hear his popular songs but learn about new ones.”

Which is just de-lovely.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Good will toward men

Homophobia nearly derailed the TCC’s planned Tyler concert, but some scrambling saved the day — even without drag queens

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

O, HOLY CRAP | A three-year effort for the Chorale to perform in Tyler was almost scuttled, but with a little help from Santa, Jonathan Palant, left, found a solution. Dallas will get its annual Christmas concerts, too. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

O HOLY NIGHT
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 15, 20 and 22.
8 p.m. $30–$67.
TurtleCreek.org.

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Almost since Jonathan Palant took over as artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, he’s been trying to schedule a concert in Tyler. He is friends with the choir director of the Marvin United Methodist Church, a congregation with an inclusive pastor and active concert series. It was all but a sealed deal earlier this year.

Then came word this summer that some powerful members of the church objected to a gay men’s chorus performing. The offer to perform there was revoked.

“At the time, my blood was boiling,” Palant admits. “But teaching acceptance is in our mission statement, and my personal approach is to encourage tolerance. This wasn’t a time for payback. A picture is worth a thousand words, like the one of the TCC standing beside the [all-men] U.S. Army Chorus. That makes more of a statement that a speech could.”

And he wanted to do that same with the Tyler concert.

“We circled back around and found a different location. Within three weeks we had three churches asking to host us. For acoustics and size, we went to the First Presbyterian Church, and they voted unanimously to approve it,” he says. Which means Tyler will be getting its chorale Christmas concert after all.

And the adage no press is bad press seems to be holding true. “Word has it everybody in Tyler is gonna make a night of it — I’m told it will be standing room only in the 750 seat sanctuary. It’s all the more enticing to attend [when you have been banned],” he says.

The chorale is well-known for its campy concerts, even (especially?) at Christmastime, but Palant says he wanted to go old-school this year — both in the slightly truncated Tyler version and the one that returns to the Meyerson Symphony Center for three performances, starting Wednesday.

“Since we’re back at our home in the Meyerson [following last year’s concert at the Winspear], I really wanted to make it ‘home for the holidays’ — your favorite Christmas carols that you could sing along to,” he says. “We’re leaving the plots and the theatrics behind this year and, as one member called it, the deluxe version of the TCC holiday concert because it’s very traditional — very stand and sing or as I call it ‘park and bark.’”

For traditionalists of another kind, however, there are plenty of chorale favorites. On the slate will be the popular Nigerian hymn “Betelehemu” with African drums, a few light-hearted numbers (one, called “Omnes Virginus Levite Manus” should recall the best of chorale humor, but is more invigorating than silly) and there will of course be “Silent Night” performed with American Sign Language solos and the dedication of poinsettias for departed chorale members (the number has grown to more than 180). And Santa Claus will be there as always.

“We have some new arrangements that are unique enough to keep them fresh but the melodies are still there, like an amazing version of ‘Silver Bells,’ a great gospel arrangement of ‘Children, Go Where I Send Thee’ and a stunning minimalistic version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ — it’s the version used in the movie Sex and the City,” Palant says.

Sex and the City figuring into a Christmas concert? Sounds like the chorale we’ve come to know and love.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens