Friday, June 17, 2016

Two Boys Kissing at Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus

I can't imagine a better way to celebrate the LGBTQ community and Pride than seeing Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus's (TCGMC) World Premiere of Two Boys Kissing

Composed by Joshua Shank and based on the book by David Levithan, Two Boys Kissing follows the stories of Harry and Craig, two gay teenagers who decide to break the world record for the longest kiss; Avery and Ryan, two teens falling in love; and the story of Cooper, who lives his life online until his secrets are discovered by his parents. 

And here's the part that is so very touching: These stories of family, and first love, and bravery, and pain are all watched over and commented on by a Greek Chorus of gay men who have died of AIDS. Men who were taken from this world too early, who are observing how much has changed--and how much has not.

Act One of this concert (running only this weekend: June 17-19 at Ted Mann Concert Hall) starts with a selection of various musical numbers. The show starts beautifully. The curtain opens to reveal the entire TCGMC holding candles and singing a beautiful song by Joseph M. Martin called "The Awakening." As the song progresses, the lights slowly come up to reveal the faces of the chorus. It's gorgeous and moving.

The first act features "The Body" by the TCGMC Chamber Singers, commissioned in honor of their 35th Anniversary Season (with poetry by Joyce Sutphen). OutLoud performs a few numbers (a gorgeous "It's a Grand Night for Singing", and "Embraceable You"), as well as a few lovely numbers by the full chorus. The act ends with "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" and I'll let my musical theater nerd/historian sister tell you about that.

Jules here! I thought "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" was an offbeat choice of song. It's a Rodgers and Hammerstein number that isn't that well known. The concert program (and the R&H website) lists it as being from State Fair, but it was originally written for Oklahoma! but cut before the show opened. It has been included in some of the stage versions of Cinderella, and in the stage version of State Fair that opened on Broadway in 1996. When I went to look this up, I found that the song had been recorded by Judy Garland for Meet Me in St. Louis, and by Frank Sinatra and Betty Garrett for Take Me Out to the Ball Game, though it was cut from both those movies. So this is a song that has never really found a home. But hearing it sung by the chorus made it a touching anthem for love of all kinds:
Boys and girls like you and me
Walk beneath the skies
They love just as we love
With the same dream in their eyes.
Act Two is Two Boys Kissing.  If you've not read the novel by David Levithan, please do so. I'll wait while you request it from your local library, or order it from a reputable local independent bookseller (such as the adorable Addendum Books in St. Paul).

The moment the Prologue began, my eyes filled with tears and the tears did not abate through the entire performance. Narrators tell the stories of the teens, as well as the thoughts of the chorus watching over them, interspersed with gorgeous choral numbers by the entire chorus. So beautiful, so emotional.

A bit from the book that touched me deeply in both the book and performance: 
"If you are a teenager now, it is unlikely that you knew us well. We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers, your mother's or your grandmother's best friend from college, the author of that book you found in the gay section of the library. We are characters in a Tony Kushner play, or names on a quilt that rarely gets taken out anymore. We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation. You know some of our songs. We do not want to haunt you too somberly. We don't want our legacy to be gravitas. You wouldn't want to live your life like that, and you won't want to be remembered like that, either. Your mistake would be to find our commonality in our dying. The living part mattered more. We taught you how to dance."
A few months ago, New Epic Theater presented Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart (in repertory with Coriolanus--both were amazing). Two Boys Kissing feels like such a natural (and lovely) follow-up to The Normal Heart--and David Levithan cites it as one of his influences. Check out his website for more of his influences in writing this book. I'd add, as I always do: the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin, a delicious series of novels which follows a group of gay and straight friends in San Francisco from the 1970s to the present.

If you're not convinced yet that you need to see this show (or at least buy the cd online from TCGMC), here's one more bit from the book that I loved:
"One of the many horrible things about dying the way we died was the way it robbed us of the outdoor world and trapped us in the indoor world. For every one of us who was able to die peacefully on a deck chair, blanket pulled high, as the wind stirred his hair and the sun warmed his face, there were hundreds of us whose last glimpse of the world was white walls and metal machinery, the tease of a window, the inadequate flowers in a vase, elected representatives from the wilds we had lost. our last breaths were of climate-controlled air. We died under ceilings. 'Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.' It makes us more grateful now for rivers, more grateful for sky."
Two Boys Kissing is for anyone who believes in the power of song to convey the most intense emotions, for anyone who's fallen in love, for anyone who's been hurt by love, for anyone who has lost a loved one, and for anyone who still believes in love and still believes in hope.