Following a tradition demands that you be consistent and maintain it, so like I have for many years, I couldn’t miss attending the annual Indianapolis Men’s Chorus holiday concert. The problem was that I was not available to see any of its regular performances on December 14 and 15, so I reached out to IMC to see if I could review Thursday’s dress rehearsal of “Making Spirits Bright” at Marian University Theatre. Luckily, I was granted permission. Of course, tweaks were made, technical issues were addressed, and Greg Sanders’ banter (who makes it look effortless) was incomplete. Also missing was organist and former Indy resident Mark Herman, who hadn’t yet arrived in town. Otherwise, I essentially saw the same superb performances that audiences will enjoy during the concert’s run this weekend.
I will share my observations about the quality of the singing and program later, but let me start by emphasizing that the show’s production values are as professional and top-notch as any I have seen on any stage in Central Indiana. Matthew Cunningham’s lighting design is simply exquisite and Quinten James’ sound design is first-rate. Adding to the concert’s slickness and glamour are the costumes, props and set elements and decorations, all orchestrated masterfully by executive producer Ethan Butt.
The mastermind of all this excellence is Greg Sanders, now in his seventh year as artistic director of IMC. Also the vocal director for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, he has transformed the IMC from an average group of avocational singers into one of polished entertainers. It is obvious that Sanders has taken a page from ISO’s “IPL Yuletide Celebration,” (which I reviewed and rhapsodized about) of which he is a member of the creative team.
The concert’s first half is fast-paced, glitzy, exhilarating and campy fun, showing off the talents and skills of IMC members, especially those in IMCSwing, who demonstrated their seasoned musical theatre experience. Not just a chorus of singers who stand in one place with books in hand, the IMC showcases the men in this subgroup—all highly skilled dancers with tons of personality and musicality. They include Frank Ebels, Andrew Gault, Victor Gichina, Alex Milligan, John David Patrick, Dawson Raymond, Joshua Richardson, Marty Wood and Jared Yoder.
Opening the concert was a segment entitled “A Swingin’ Little Christmas,” which featured Drew Kemp and IMCSwing. It was among my favorite numbers, as well as “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” also performed by IMCSwing, and executed with impeccable precision. Another was an instrumental interlude featuring a trio playing a medley of rock tunes, entitled “Nutrocker,” with keyboardist Matt Richardson turning in a powerful and commanding performance. Also playing was Conner Green on bass and percussionist Cameron Bailey. Next was “Somewhere Hovering over Indiana” from “A Christmas Story: The Musical” featuring Victor Gichina, Drew Kempin, Dawson Raymond, Jared Yoder and the IMC. Closing Act 1 with a proverbial bang was the rollicking “Santa’s Rock ‘n Roll Finale,” with lead vocals supplied by the sensational long-haired Alex Milligan, joined by IMCSwing and the IMC.
The second half of the concert, which consists of mainly traditional carols, a format unique to this particular holiday concert and which has been in place for at least the last several years, was fairly solemn in contrast to the lively first act. I imagine this programming is by design in order to illustrate the IMC’s serious, artistic side. Songs performed included gorgeous, beautifully blended and harmonized renditions of such carols as “Sing Noel,” “Christmas Glory,” “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night.” The issue for me was that the pace of the entire concert slowed and inevitably lost a bit of steam and became somewhat anti-climactic, resulting from the string of the mostly sacred tunes performed in succession. After awhile they all sounded the same. My preference would be that the serious songs be intermingled with those that are upbeat, thus providing more variety, making things less predictable and improving the flow.
Nevertheless, the concert’s programming did not negatively affect my overall enjoyment of what has become the IMC’s crowning achievement. For purposes of transparency, it’s important to share that I was a member of the IMC for six of its earliest years, so there is no bigger fan or advocate of its purposeful mission. Because of that love and appreciation for their outstanding artistic product and what they stand for as an LGTBQ institution that seeks to unify us all, I highly recommend you see ”Making Spirits Bright.” Give yourself the gift of music and celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. There is no question that you will be both inspired and entertained.