The cast of the It Gets Better Tour was stellar Oct. 10 at the Wallis.
As part of the It Gets Better Project, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) and Speak Theater Arts presented a performance of the same name Saturday, Oct. 10 at the beautiful Bram Goldsmith Theater located in the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts complex. A VIP pre-performance reception hosted by HBO was held at the adjacent plaza where guests enjoyed complementary drinks and hors d’oeuvres, culminating with a welcoming speech and acknowledgements by the Executive Director of the GMCLA, Chris Verdugo.
The concert was part of the It Gets Better Tour that “travels around the country to communities nationwide and produces a week of educational workshops culminating in a moving musical theater performance. The stage show brings to life real-life stories from lesbian, gay, transgender, genderqueer and straight allies from across America and infuses them with dynamic musical numbers.” So far the tour has visited 15 different cities across the country (including three cities in California) and has been seen by over 40,000 people, including residency activities and shows.
Written and directed by Liesel Reinhart with music direction and vocal arrangements by Morten Kier, the production featured some original songs by Mervyn Warren, Jeff Marx and Brian Graden based on interviews carried out by Reinhart, Tod Macofsky, Steve Holzer and Gary Hayashi.
Made up of different vignettes, accompanied by some old and original songs with creative, fun choreography by the talented Mario Mosley (also one of the performers), the program relies on real stories and testimonies gathered by the interviewers. In a fast-paced, entertaining and very emotional rollercoaster of an evening, the program touched on a variety of experiences, characters and themes that many in the LGBT community can relate to.
The gifted cast included Jason Currie, Tyler Houston, Amber Hurst-Martin, Macofsky, Mosley, Joshua Skidmore, Gina Young and the very talented Billy Thompson on piano. Appearing as an ensemble, small groups or solo, the cast showcased a variety of stories, characters and themes during the course of the evening.
There was the story of the young Midwest lesbian, played by Hurst-Martin, who was kicked out of home in the middle of a snow storm, became homeless but eventually found love, salvation and even had a child; the story of the successful Latino attorney (Macofsky), who came from poor beginnings and had to seek a psychologist in order to deal with the remnants of the engrained homophobia found in the Hispanic community (from the life of West Hollywood councilman and GMCLA member John J. Duran).
One of my favorite segments was the one about an ex member of the Exodus International ministry, a now disbanded non-profit organization of “ex-gay” Christians who wanted to help others limit and/or “cure” their homosexual desires. Played hysterically by the talented Skidmore, his character responded to questions by an unseen interviewer à la “A Chorus Line.” Not only did Skidmore have some of the best lines of the evening but he also possesses an incredible singing voice and acting chops.
Another outstanding vignette was that of the divorced, urban Jewish mother played by the hugely talented Young (also a singer/musician/playwright), who embraces her transgender son’s identity, allowing his self expression, which includes a drag-queen career under the stage name “Amber Alert.” There was the story of the closeted gay male athlete (from the real-life NBA player Jason Paul Collins), played (pun intended) by the multi-talented Mosley. Collins’ very public announcement in 2013 of his gay identity was a pivotal point in LGBT history, and the following year he was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
A direct, personal and true story was related to the audience by actor/musician Houston, whose real-life stepmother invaded his privacy by reading his journal, finding out his sexual orientation and subsequently forcing his father to choose between her and him. Forced into therapy, Houston eventually moved to Los Angeles and is a prominent member of the GMCLA.
One of the most salient and creative features of the production was the work done by the multimedia team. This included outstanding videos, images and costumes, as well as lighting design, which all together gave the presentation a superb artistic vision full of flavor and hues (pun intended), while providing visual context and mood.
To end the evening with a showstopper, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles brought onto the stage a large group of teens to sing the final number along with the cast and other members of the choir. It was not clear if any or all of these teens were LGBT identified or not, just the mere fact that these young people would share the stage with members of this community while singing out loud (another pun) a song about acceptance, joy and inclusion made this already stellar evening even more spectacular.