It’s that time of the year again and the Gay Men’s Chorus is ringing in the holidays and the opening of its 2011-2012 season with its annual holiday concert. This year’s version is being dubbed “Red & Greene” and features special guest Ellen Greene, Broadway’s original Audrey from “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“There’s nothing like a Jew who loves Christmas, by the way,” Greene says. “I’ve been known to have three Christmas trees … one for children in the front, one for the middle room where the piano was and then one in the back.”
Greene will be joined by pianist Christian Klikovits and Grammy Award-winning cellist Stephen Erdody. The three were in town last weekend for a dinner with the Chorus’s board, managing director David Jobin and a couple rehearsals with artistic director Jeff Buhrman and the whole chorus.
“David Jobin is such a spectacular producer,” Greene says. “We’ve been treated so well, everybody’s been lovely to us … this is my Christmas present.”
The show will include the full chorus singing holiday standards, including “Angels We Have Heard on High” and smaller ensembles having fun dancing and singing in full costumes.
“Christmas represents to me, theater, people, artists, and I mean artists acrossthe board … if you think, if you dream, if you create, you’re an artist … so Christmas represented … coming together as a family,” Greene says. “Anything that involves music and coming together feels holy and special and magical.”
Greene plans two dedications during the engagement — “Winter Song” for those who’ve died, and “Universal Child” for same-sex marriage rights and anti-bullying.
“My show is so depressing, that the reason I have to talk in between is I can make everyone laugh so I can sing another song,” she says.
This isn’t Greene’s first time singing with a chorus. Growing up, her whole family sang, earning them the nickname, “the singing Greenes” and she always had a big solo on holidays.
“I was singing with the cantor … and I got a 104 fever because I had tremendous stage fright … I don’t know why I picked this career,” Greene says. “My father … he says, ‘Let her sing.’ As soon as I sang, my temperature went down.”
Greene started her career as a nightclub singer in New York at Reno Sweeney, which is where she got all her shows. Her first starring role was in the Broadway bomb, “Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don’t You Ever Forget It)” in 1973.
“Dead? Hollywood? Dead? My whole life I’ve dreamed I’d finally get there. You mean I finally get there, it’s dead? Take away my dreams, you take away my mind,” she recited from the play that closed before it even opened.
Buhrman says the Chorus members are thrilled to have Greene join them.“We had the opportunity to rehearse with her last weekend and she’s just a wonderfully talented performer,” he says.
Greene and the Chorus will each perform their own selections but will also collaborate on three songs Klikovits arranged specifically for the occasion. About 225 men will be in the Chorus, a record for the group. There will be no second-half skit as in previous years, but there will be several theatrical elements including a pageant of showboys, dancing nuns and more.
Buhrman says Greene was on the Chorus’s “wish list” of celebrity guests. “We contacted her management team and made it happen,” he says.
It’s been a big year of collaboration for the Chorus. For its 30th anniversary concert earlier this year, another Broadway vet joined them — Jennifer Holliday.
Greene was performing in Central Park during the 1977 New York City blackout.
“I was on stage, about to sing my big number … and it went absolutely dark in the park … all of a sudden, I just started to sing … and the pianist started followingme. And I said, ‘If you just do what you always do, walk straight, you will not fall off the platform,” Greene says.
They finished the show with car headlights lighting the stage.
Greene is also active politically, working with various groups including GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) and more.
While working on the show “Pushing Daisies,” Bruce Cohen asked Greene to go to New Hampshire to campaign for Hillary Clinton with the “Lucky Charms.”
“She couldn’t be busier … she actually found my address and wrote me a letter,” Greene says. “I made [Klikovits] open the letter because I was shaking.”
Coming up, Greene is thinking of releasing a holiday album, rereleasing “In Her Eyes,” an album she made with Klikovits, and possibly a never-before-released album.
The Chorus will be giving four performances starting at 8 p.m. on Dec. 16. There will be two performances on Dec. 17 at 3 and 8 p.m. and a final performance on Dec. 18 at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $50 and can be purchased online at gmcw.org.
“I’m very excited to see all the dancing and singing and silliness … I know they’re going to take care of the fun part,” Greene says. “I’m excited to meet 225 men, I mean, it’s me and all those men, what’s bad about those odds?”
‘RED & GREENE’
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington With special guest Ellen Greene
Lisner Auditorium 730 21st Street, NW
Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. Dec. 17 at 3 and 8 p.m. Dec. 18 at 3 p.m.
New book shares Chorus history
The holiday concert isn’t the only news about the Gay Men’s Chorus. Paula Bresnan Gibson has written a book, “Voices from a Chorus,” all about the group and its history.
The book is told through the perspective of a woman who served on the Chorus’s board of directors. It includes many interviews, including one with the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop Gene Robinson, a longtime supporter of the Chorus and recipient of its highest award.
The interviews show how men have overcome challenges such as dealing with their sexual orientation, their families, friends, living with HIV/AIDS and more just by participating in the Chorus.
Gibson is scheduled to make appearances at American University on Feb. 10, Proud Bookstore in Rehoboth Beach on Feb. 11 and Day of the Book Festival in Kensington on April 22.
The book is available for purchase online at voicesfromachorus.com and in local bookstores, Politics & Prose, Kramerbooks, Trohv Home & Gift and Kensington Row Bookshop.
The Blade wrote an extensive story of the Chorus’s history upon its 30th anniversary in June. It’s here.