A life can be measured by many yardsticks: in minutes, in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches or miles, in laughter, in strife. So says the song, “Seasons of Love,” from the popular Broadway show Rent. But then it goes on to ask, “How about love?”
Similarly, a show can be measured from many perspectives: the ability of its singers to blend voices, the range of those voices, the director and the rapport he or she has with the singers, the singers’ responsiveness to their director, the show’s audience appeal and its variety, its pacing, the individual voices, the collective voice. All these are qualities we look for in a good choral production. And, like a life, a chorus can also be measured by its humanity and the love it shares with its audience.
If love is the yardstick, then there was plenty of it to go around on Sunday afternoon in Mancos when the Mancos Valley Chorus performed its first of four spring shows titled Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Playing to a packed house, the MVC gave a full throttle performance of familiar and not-so-familiar songs from Broadway and from shared popular culture.
The show opened with a strong performance of Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King, followed by a slick arrangement of the 1958 hit made popular by Frank Sinatra, Come Fly With Me. The tight harmonies, difficult rhythms, perfectly chosen tempo, and intermittent scat singing were delivered with coolness and ease. Adding to the mix was a solid trio of low-key jazz instrumentalists, making it easy to imagine oneself at a lounge show at the Sands on the Strip. The only thing missing was the martini.
In a sultry mash up of two oldies, I Only Have Eyes For You and The More I See You, the audience was treated to some smooth schmooz with a bassa nova flavor. Alternating between unison singing and yummy harmonies, the mood was reminiscent of cigarette holders, evening gloves, and dinner jackets. That ambience was not lost on its audience.
The Mancos Valley Chorus director, Kriss Larsen of Durango, has developed a winning formula for her popular shows and she doesn’t stray from that model in this show. Large choral numbers are interspersed with solos and small ensembles, helping the show to vary its pace and to give the singers a break between numbers. Outstanding solos included a predictably solid rendition by Terry Wells of Leon Russell’s This Masquerade, a dorm room turntable staple made popular in the 1970s by George Benson. Honorable mention goes to Susan Givens who performed the evocative Til There Was You from the Music Man.
Janet Lever-Wood served up the most memorable solo of the afternoon with a refreshing interpretation of Cyndi Lauper’s 1984 hit, Time After Time. Alternating between throaty and floaty, her high notes were quick and light and her low notes rich and resonant. She seemed to find and deliver more in this pop oldie than we ever hear on the radio.
No Mancos Valley Chorus production would be complete without an instrumental number by Bob Newnam on trumpet. Newnam has gained a local reputation for being a versatile horn player in a number of different musical genres including reggae, jazz, blues, and accompanying vocalists. On Sunday afternoon he and his musical trio got everyone’s foot tapping with the 1941 jazz standard, I’ll Remember April, reworked into a bright and happy samba. Solos passed between Spencer Church, on stand-up bass, Cooper Travis on drums, and Lee Bartley on piano before wandering back to Newnam who is clearly at home with his trumpet and his fellow musicians. It was the perfect change-up in the middle of a choral concert, sort of like lemon sorbet between courses of a fine meal. Unexpected and delicious.
Perhaps the crowning glory of the afternoon was The Lion King trifecta which completed the show. In Shadowland we heard a moving arrangement which featured long-time member, Lynn Robb, as soloist singing in her clear full voice the part of Nala, the young lioness who leaves her ruined homeland in search of help. Robb is accompanied by the full chorus singing in both in Zulu and English. The juxtaposition of solo voice against the full swell of the chorus was both courageous and tender and very moving.
The chorus quickly followed with He Lives In You and Can You Feel the Love Tonight. And with the final number, Circle of Life, we are returned to where we began, coming full circle back to The Lion King and to the unifying theme of love, life, loss, and hope.
Once again the choir’s accompanist, Lee Bartley, must be singled out for his abilities at the piano. Not limited by notes on a page, he freely improvises his accompaniments and solo interludes with an ease and style that is remarkable. He is a true professional and the chorus would not be what it is without his leadership and skill at the instrument.
Bartley was joined by two young newcomers: Spencer Church on stand-up and electric bass and Cooper Travis on drums, both of Durango. Adept at their instruments and alert to the conductor, they provided a rock steady foundation for the 34 choristers.
Larsen is a dynamo on the podium. Her style of conducting is both meticulous and theatric, and her choir has been well-trained to follow her every nuance. Her enthusiasm for music is boundless. Adored by her chorus, there is a happy hospitality that spills over onto the audience. In short, we feel special just by being there.
The opening number in the Broadway show, Rent, is called Seasons of Love and is about friends who have passed on. The choir dedicated this number, a clear heartfelt favorite, to former chorus members who have recently died, specifically Steve Hawkins and Lloyd McNeil, known to most of us simply as The Whistler.
In the same number, we are reminded that there are 525,600 minutes in a year. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait that long for another performance by this popular chorus. Three shows remain: one in Cortez on Tuesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Methodist Church on Park; one on Wednesday, May 7 in Durango at Christ the King Lutheran Church on Florida Road; and a final show on Friday night, May 9 in their home venue at the Mancos Methodist Church.
After that, we’ll have only 262,800 minutes to wait until their return in December.
Wendy Watkins is owner and operator of S’more Music, LLC., a private Suzuki piano studio. She can be reached at 565-4129.