It’s “that week” for us once again. We have anywhere from three to four of “those weeks” in a given season. In theatre they call it “hell week,” but I know a director who refers to it as “heaven week.” Both are generally misnomers, but I must admit that this week I’m anticipating a bit of heaven in the life of the AGMC.
It’s not often – if ever – that we only have to prepare six pieces for a concert. It’s not that often we get to perform with Broadway stars. And it’s certainly not common place for us to share the stage with a major symphony orchestra. It’s not that we can’t hold our own, mind you, it’s just that such convergences are infrequent.
In 2006, I had the opportunity to conduct a performance with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The structure is a spectacular achievement in architecture and acoustics (the latter being designed by the same acoustician who gave the Cobb Energy Center its wonderful sound.) You can hear everything in Disney Hall — so much that when you stand in the conductor’s position and address the chorus, you feel as if you’re speaking into your own ears. Talk about being beside yourself.
It was that day that I met Susan Egan — the Broadway star who originated the role of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” and who went on to enjoy many other successes, including playing Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” longer than any other actress in Broadway history.
It was immediately clear that Susan was a delightful person and a tremendous talent. Her spirit, her voice and her professionalism were unmatched. (She almost stole my heart that night; but what are you going to remember most as a gay man: working with Susan Egan or sitting next to Malcolm Gets during the second act? It’s a very tough call.)
It wasn’t long after that concert that I invited Susan to do a master class with my musical theatre students at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. A big supporter of arts education, Susan brought her years of experience into the classroom in a way that I have seldom seen. Genuine. Transparent. No nonsense about the biz, but also encouraging to aspiring college students.
Not long after I moved to Atlanta and realized we’d be programming our Kander & Ebb tribute, I circled back to Susan to see if she might be able to join us as a special guest; but by that point she was busy playing mom — the ultimate role of a lifetime. Susan told me that her performing was going to be scaled back in the coming years and that most of her work would be with symphony orchestras. Naturally, she was most elegant in her regrets.
Who knew at that point I could have said, “Well, we’ll just wait until you sing with the Atlanta Symphony and they invite us to be the chorus”?
I think I almost did.
I look forward to seeing Susan on Thursday and introducing her to the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus. I know that they will find her as delightful as I did — as delightful as you will this weekend. Her small frame packs a powerful punch whenever she takes the stage and I can assure you that Susan, the other guests, the orchestra and chorus are all poised to deliver two incredible performances in Atlanta Symphony Hall.
There, I will enjoy the rarest of treats: sitting in the audience and listening to the AGMC.
No need for fancy acoustical effects in my ears this time. Just the music, please.