NORTH TONAWANDA – The Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus embarked on its 10th Christmas season Friday night with a program that mixed a bit of solemnity with a bit of play – although, to be truthful, the later half of the formula was more in evidence than the former, especially in the second half.
It all took place in the Riviera Theatre, a marvelously refurbished old moviehouse with a magnificent Wurlitzer organ that rises up from the “pit” and, with the right hands playing the keys and pulling the stops, delivers an amazing sound.
Before the chorus walked onto the stage and while the audience was milling around in a preconcert scrum of conversation, an organist kept filling the air with a medley of Christmas tunes, setting the stage for what was to come. When the appointed hour drew nigh, the mighty Wurlitzer slowly began its descent back into the pit from which it had risen as the strains of “Jingle Bells” floated into the air.
Then, the singers came from behind the curtains and down the aisles to fill the stage. The accompanists (piano, bass, and percussion) were already in their places and, after a few opening statements from chorus officials, the chorus went right into, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
Much of the program was devoted to standards like the opener and tunes including “Carol of the Bells,” “The Christmas Song” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” But there was enough unusual material to pique the interest. Hanukkah was given a few licks (“Judah and the Maccabees,” with a great solo from Scott Nykiel) but so, too, were Kwanzaa (a well-meaning take on “Kwanzaa Spirit”) and a novelty item with echoes of Hawaii, “Mele Kalikimaka.”
The chorus alternated a raucous “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which featured an audience participation routine that cajoles the audience into illustrating the various gifts per day in sequence. The folks on the “12th day” had it easy. Then came a less strenuous, albeit twisted, rendition of “The Twelve Days After Christmas,” with lyrics that described the mayhem that could be inflicted with each of those “gifts.”
During the second half of the evening the formal coats worn by the ensemble were doffed, and the men went for the slightly more casual look – except for Ciaran Krueger, the company’s artistic director/conductor, who came onstage in a red zoot suit with pegged cuffs, a green shirt and a sharp chapeau. The band was increased in size, with two trumpets, a tenor sax, and a trombone added to the piano trio. This revamped group helped give a jazz inflection to the balance of the evening.
All of this will be seen again in different venues tonight and Sunday afternoon, when the Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus takes its show on the road. While the introductory passages from the mighty Wurlitzer will be missed, the rest of the production will more than make up for the loss.