On entering Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, before her Friday performance at the gala for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, guest artist Chrissy Metz paused to share a few thoughts.
“I’m super grateful to be here to sing a beautiful song,” said the “This Is Us” actress. “It’s a beautiful song [called ‘I’m Standing with You’], written by Diane Warren, that is just perfect for any occasion. But for this occasion, the anniversaries of Stonewall and the Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A., this all makes really great wonderful sense. So, when [GMCLA organizers] asked, I said, ‘Yes, of course, I’ll be there.’ ”
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles had double reason to celebrate Friday. The evening, which included a reception, concert and dinner, marked the organization’s 40th anniversary as well as the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ rights. (More on that later.)
Conducted by interim artistic director Gavin Thrasher, the 270-member Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles sang a diverse program of Broadway, gospel, choral, country and pop music. Members of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, Broadway’s Shoshana Bean and Metz joined the lineup as guest artists.
For her part, Bean belted out the anthem “She Used to Be Mine” from “Waitress” before teaming up with soloist Tod Macofsky for “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from “Hello, Dolly!” as the GMCLA queens, featuring TV personality Eureka O’Hara, paraded across the stage in technicolor gowns, waving feather fans.
During a break between sets, the chorus sang “Happy Birthday” to the night’s honoree, political activist David Mixner, who, GMCLA board chair Steve Holzer noted, shares a birthday with singer Madonna, who turned 61 on Friday. Holzer said Mixner is “a man who is a legend, quite frankly, in the LGBTQ activism and advocacy world,” adding, “He has been in the forefront of civil rights for not just the gay community and the LGBTQ community — but for everyone.”
GMCLA executive director Lou Spisto then bid farewell to Thrasher, who will join the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. Turning to the New York group, Spisto said jokingly, “If you’re not good to this guy, I have a lot of relatives in Staten Island.”
The program then continued with “Quiet No More,” a six-song cycle, co-commissioned by the Los Angeles and New York choruses, and sung by them and other choruses from around the country, to pay tribute to the Stonewall uprising in 1969 in which patrons and local residents rose up against police after a raid on Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn in New York.
The tribute to Mixner closed festivities, and there was more music, courtesy of saxophonist Dave Koz, playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Juan Pablo Di Pace of “Fuller House,” singing Warren’s “Because You Loved Me.”
In accepting GMCLA’s Lifetime Legend Award, Mixner spoke of the injustices — friends dying of complications from AIDS, government indifference, military careers lost, derisive headlines and more. “We’ve come a long way,” he said. “We are a tribe of extraordinary, noble, courageous people that have set the standard for decency for generations to come. We have a tale, yes, filled with tears, but never have I seen such courage.“
In a conversation at dinner, Metz said she had become emotional on stage. “The feat was trying to keep it together,” she said, “because tonight my song meant something else. There were 450 people standing behind me, and I kept thinking about what they went through. I can’t imagine it has been easy.“
Said Warren about the song Metz sang, “I wrote ‘I’m Standing with You’ for Chrissy’s movie, ‘Breakthrough,’ and the fact that it could be done tonight to show that we’re standing with the LGBTQ community means so much to me. I’m glad the song has another life … especially in the divided country we’re in now. It says whatever you go through, we’re standing with you.”
The evening raised $500,000 from tickets for 270 gala guests selling for $600 and $1,000 each and the sold-out concert with seats alone ranging from $50 to $90. Proceeds were earmarked for GMCLA and its music education programs, which have reached more 65,000 children and young people throughout Los Angeles during the last 12 years.