By Vic Gerami
Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) triumphantly celebrated its 40th anniversary in a spectacular way on Friday night at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with a sold-out concert and gala.
This was the first time in chorus’ forty year history to merge their annual fundraiser gala with a concert. The read-carpet reception brought out celebrities, elected officials, dignitaries and various stakeholders in the community to join almost 2,000 attendees who filled the concert hall to capacity. Just a few of the high-profile long-time supporters of GMCLA who attended the event were renowned songwriter Diane Warren, civil rights attorney, activist and Board Chair of APLA Health, Peter Perkowski and 46th District Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian.
The evening paid tribute to Stonewall 50 and honored David Mixner with GMCLA’s Lifetime Legend Award for his leadership, activism and service in the LGBTQ and civil rights movements for the past 60 years.
In addition to his fight for gay rights, David Mixner is a Vietnam War era anti-war activist, a civil rights activist, an HIV/AIDS advocate, and a best-selling author of three books. David was once named by Newsweek the most powerful gay man in America due to his political activism and influence.
During the concert, GMCLA’s 270 members were joined by members of New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and 23 other choruses from around the country to perform ‘Quiet No More’, commissioned to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
This event had huge significance for many reasons, including for it being the first major event for Steve Hozer, new Board Chair and Lou Spisto, GMCLA’s new Executive Director. Previously, Holzer was a long-time board member and Spisto had been on the board of GMCLA from 2015 to 2018 and was the interim Executive Director since February 2019, and was confirmed in his new position in May.
Not new to GMCLA, Spisto was keenly aware of the evening’s immense success. He expressed his excitement to me by telling me that the event was “particularly big, lavish, exciting, we are sold out.”
Spisto is a Tony-nominated producer and a nonprofit arts administrator who has led several of the country’s most prominent arts organizations including The Old Globe and the Pacific Symphony. He has produced plays on Broadway and London’s West End, among many other places.
I asked him what we can expect from GMCLA in the months ahead. He said, “We are announcing our concerts in about four weeks, but the concerts are going to be really spectacular, we are going to be back at the Alex Theater, we are looking to be back here again next year as well.”
He added, “We got themes, I can’t announce them yet, I will soon, but some new directions and some big and exciting things are coming.”
Thrilled with the unprecedented event, Steve Holzer said, “The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles has been a fabulous, multi-layered part of the fabric of this city for 40 years. The concert and gala honoring the great LGBTQ activist and advocate David Mixner reflected the strides our community has made since the Stonewall Uprising 50 years ago – and the reality that our work is as necessary today as ever.”
Later he added, ” In the lobby after the concert, a man stopped me and said that we had made him feel like we’re a family and we invited the entire audience to come with us on our mission to change hearts and minds through the power of music. That’s the nicest compliment I think we could’ve ever been paid.”
The gala concert was a showstopper opening for Spisto and Holzer as it brilliantly converged music, education, fundraising, activism and entertainment. Spisto was able to raise $100,000 from the audience within a few minutes before the show began. He also bade farewell to GMCLA’s interim Artistic Director, Gavin Thrasher, who has been with the chorus for five years, but will assume his position as the new Artistic Director of New York City’s Gay Men’s Chorus.
Chrissy Metz, star of NBC’s This is Us and Shoshana Bean, star of Broadway’s Waitress, joined the chorus and performed a few songs that brought the house down.
Metz told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m super grateful to be here to sing a beautiful song,” said the “This Is Us” actress. “It’s a beautiful song [called ‘I’m Standing with You’], written by Diane Warren, that is just perfect for any occasion. But for this occasion, the anniversaries of Stonewall and the Gay Men’s Chorus of L.A., this all makes really great wonderful sense. So, when GMCLA organizers asked, I said, ‘Yes, of course, I’ll be there.”
The show became even more intimate and special when the chorus sang David Mixner happy birthday as it was his 73rd birthday.
Later during the gala, the most poignant part of Mixner’s eloquent and touching speech was this line, “Courage is lack of options.” Saxophonist Dave Koz played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Juan Pablo Di Pace of “Fuller House,” sang Warren’s “Because You Loved Me.”
The sold-out concert and gala raised $500,000 benefiting GMCLA and its music education programs, which have reached more 65,000 children and young people throughout Los Angeles during the last twelve years.
I chatted with David the day after the event to get his feedback. He said, “I was at the GMCLA first ever concert and to see them perform before 1,700 in Disney Hall was overwhelming. Hate is destroyed by music.”
Mission: To create musical experiences that strengthen our role as a leader among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and performing arts organizations, enrich our member-artists, support LGBT youth, challenge homophobia, and expose new communities to our message of equality.
History: It was a hot July 12 evening in 1979. A small group of men opened the doors to a room at the Plummer Park Community Center in Los Angeles (now West Hollywood), waiting and wondering if anybody would show up. They had posted flyers around the neighborhood announcing the formation of a new gay chorus and this night was to be its first rehearsal. To their great surprise, 99 men appeared and a chorus was born. Within three months of that rehearsal, founding director Harold Kjellberg led the group through its first major event: the March on Washington, D.C. and the first national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) concert at the Washington Memorial.
For more information about GMCLA and to make a donation, please visit GMCLA.org