What was obvious from the very start of “Totally Rad! A Bodacious Salute to the 1980s” concert presented by Indianapolis Men’s Chorus on Saturday at Marian University Theatre was not only the wealth of talent on stage, but also the high caliber of showmanship. Combine those qualities with the concert’s first-rate production values and this was as a highly polished effort that was as professionally staged as it was entertaining. Deserving of acclaim is visionary IMC Artistic Director Greg Sanders, who led the 52 singers and a crack production team, who made this event a spectacle that will be long remembered for its artistry and utter brio.
Regarding the IMC’s choice of the 80s music, Sanders pointed out in the printed program that as the organization looks to its 30th anniversary next year, it wanted to recall its history. At the end of the 1980s when the AIDS crisis was at its peak, organization founders realized the power of choral music to not only to effect social change in general, but also comfort, empower and engender pride within the LGBT community, and thus the IMC was born.
Most notable about the jukebox-style concert itself was the sheer scope of the set list, which consisted of nearly 60 full-length or excerpted songs from the 80s repertoire. It was truly an astounding, comprehensive feat.
Opening with a “’Time’ Machine” medley, the chorus sang bits of “Mr. Roboto,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Time After Time,” and “Back in Time,” and set the mood for the cavalcade of the era’s music to follow, It was a nostalgic feast, especially for those who considered the music the soundtrack of their youth. Other songs covered included “Risky Business,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Somewhere Out There.”
As I watched the concert in total amazement and appreciation for the ambitious breadth of the show’s content, I quipped to my guest, “This is not your grandma’s IMC.” With all due respect to my fellow chorus brothers, with whom I sang when I was an IMC member from 1991-1997, this was a far cry from the days when we stood stationary, carried our music in folders and performed limited choreography in place. Plus, the chorus, at that time, certainly did not have a dance group, such as IMSwing, moving to the ingenious work of IMC choreographer and performer Jared. P. Norman. At times, I was simply bowled over by both the complexity and execution of the dancing in such production numbers as “Risky Business,” “Miami Vice,” “Flashdance,” plus “One Hit Wonderful,” a medley that closed Act 1. A spectacular medley titled “The Gnarly Mix Tape,” consisting of 22 excerpts of everything from “Like a Virgin” to “St. Elmo’s Fire” to “Footloose,” was featured as the concert finale. As a whole, I was also astounded by the sustained energy level of the entire chorus, which was maintained for the entire length of the concert.
The concert’s soloists turned in performances that shined, but those who stood out included Joe Perkins in “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” Jared Yoder who sang “Let’s Hear it for the Boy,” Jerico Hughes in “We Are The World,” Alex Milligan in “Jump,” and IMC Associate Artistic Director Jared McElroy’s “Living On a Prayer.”
There are not enough superlatives to describe the tremendous musicianship of the band that faithfully interpreted every song on the program. They included Matt Richardson on keyboards, Conner Green on guitar, Joe Schwitzer on bass, and percussionist Cameron Bailey.
Finally, the IMC pulled out all the stops when it came to the concert’s production elements overseen by Executive Producer Ethan Butt. The rock-concert-quality look and feel was contributed by lighting designer Matthew Ford Cunningham who utilized rotating lights, vivid color and gobos to great effect. Designer Quinten James was responsible for the concert’s impeccable sound mix. Also enhancing the concert was a large upstage screen on which 80s-related stills and video were projected.
At intermission, I had the pleasure of chatting with Indianapolis Symphony Pops Executive Producer Ty Johnson, who concurred what we were witnessing was something very special. We also agreed that the audience, which included a significant number of non-LGBTQ fans, was unique for its diversity. In that moment, I thought about how far society has evolved, in general, in terms of acceptance and equality. In its early days, IMC audiences were primarily gay people and a few allies, so it is indeed gratifying to see how far the chorus and its audiences have evolved. And most importantly, it is encouraging that now, like then, music is still a bridge that smashes barriers. Present-day circumstances indicate that hate and discrimination still exist, but just as it has for the past 30 years, IMC still plays a crucial role in bringing people together through the universal language of music. And based on what I saw on Saturday, it does so with a style and flair that is unequaled in the Indy arts scene.
For tickets and information about Indianapolis Men’s Chorus Pride Week Fundraiser, “’Rent’ Movie Sing-Along,” June 6, visit indianapolismenschorus.org.