Concert Review: ‘Judy’ by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC

Jarrod Bennett sings “Over the Rainbow” in JUDY. Photo by Michael Key.

Judy Garland may have left us to cross the rainbow, but her star has never faded. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW) exemplified the legend’s influence beautifully in their intimate cabaret titled “Judy,” under the artistic direction of cabaret pianist Alex Tang.

Gay Men’s Chorus from Washington, DC beautifully illustrates how [Judy Garland’s] the influence shines on…

Featuring a small jazz trio and mostly solo performers, the choir members took the audience on a journey through their personal connections to the music of Judy Garland in short monologues before each number. Some were melancholic, some humorous, some touching, and a downright epic story of a young gay boy’s week-long dramatic sob fest to persuade his parents to buy him a coveted collection of Judy Garland LPs. (which ended in a valiant success!)

I enjoyed how each vocalist sought to find their own artistry in a thoughtful homage to a Judy classic, allowing us to both hear the standards as we know and love them while being amazed and delighted by the individuality of each performer. Chuck Willett was particularly notable on “Hello, Bluebird” with his playfulness at every reiteration of the title phrase, not to mention his outstanding eye contact and audience engagement, really giving us that cabaret flavor.

Rinaldo “Rini” Martinez also brought the flair with his bawdy take on “The Trolley Song,” paying cheeky attention to certain sound effect lyrics and enhancing their effect with corresponding gestures that gave a touch of tasteful but so fun of risk. Adam Edgerton demonstrated a truly impressive mastery of dynamic control in his rendition of “Come Rain or Come Shine”. It went from quiet to loud and back again on quick, simple notes and made it sound effortless, drawing me into a song whose melody might not otherwise have engaged. Instead, I was held on the edge of my seat by her thrilling performance.

Rob Hall gave the audience a charming and heartbreaking rendition of “Smile”, prefacing his song by recounting Judy’s struggles with depression, and one particular performance he found where she sang the song almost to herself. I really appreciated the melancholic energy he brought to his performance. Ellery Rhodes gave a powerful performance of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, telling us how they loved the lyrics ‘we’ll have to manage somehow’ when they were kids, and were overwhelmed to hear the prevalent sanitized version “hanging a shining star on the highest branch” takes its place in most non-Judy covers. They put their heart and soul into their voices, and it shows.

Although there were too many artists to name, all outstanding, my favorite artist of the night was definitely Jarrod Bennett with his superb rendition of “Over the Rainbow”. He stripped the performance of any pretense and sang from his heart for his sister, who he explained had passed away. Bennett gave us a gospel-influenced performance with runs that were purely emotional rather than for show. His raw pain seemed to flow straight from his heart into his voice, and he received a standing ovation from the audience. I still have goosebumps.

“Judy” was an outstanding example of GMCW’s ability to deliver intimate performances alongside grand, all-encompassing affairs. Unfortunately, it was only one night, but I strongly encourage readers to attend an upcoming GMCW performance. I’m sure you won’t leave disappointed!

Duration: 90 minutes without intermission.

“Judy” ran for one night only on October 22, 2022 presented by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. at The Vault, Capital One Hall, 7750 Capital One Tower Road, Tysons, VA 22102. For more event information at come by GMCW under the guidance of Dr. Thea Kano, click here.

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