One of my favorite movies of all times is the Robin Williams/Nathan Lane film, Birdcage. The 1996 film was a remake of the popular 1978 Franco Italian film, La Cage aux Folles, and although it was not the first remake of La Cage, it was one of the first popularly accepted films about a gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion who agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée's right-wing moralistic parents.
The film was a huge success capturing the notion that there’s no shame in being gay and that everyone should be proud to be who they are.
This has been a goal of the performing arts company, MenAlive — Orange County Gay Men's Chorus, which was founded in September of 2001 by Rich Cook.
The chorus started with just 13 singers in 2001 and today has more than 120 members and a support team of 50 plus volunteers today. MenAlive has grown into one of Orange County's largest choruses as well as an active and respected partner in Southern California's arts scene.
MenAlive is much more than a choral performance company. They present full productions that combine song, dance and theatrics from classical, jazz, gospel, traditional, contemporary, and popular music to create shows with enormous appeal for all ages and backgrounds.
Even more important to this group of artists is their mission to promote understanding and acceptance for the LGBT community to empower people, especially youth, against the fears and discrimination that threaten all of society.
As one of several Gay Choruses across the country (including San Francisco, New York, Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC, Dallas), the Gay Chorus movement began in response to the assassination of San Francisco Supervisor, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in California, and all of the groups have evolved with the mission of building bridges from the gay community to the world at large through music performance of the highest quality and through community outreach.
In very conservative Orange County, CA, it has been an uphill battle to maintain their mission and goals, but the organizers at MenAlive are encouraged by the recent Supreme Court rulings, and continue to strive to be the positive face of Orange County's gay community.
The Chorus presents a three-concert series each season using mostly their home theatre, the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, California. They have also performed at the main Segerstrom Theater and the Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Several major and noted guest artists have joined MenAlive in performance over the years, including Liza Minnelli, Michael Feinstein, Debbie Reynolds, Sam Harris and Broadway legend Bernadette Peters.
MenAlive recently returned to the Hollywood Bowl to open for the very popular, ABBA: The Concert. They performed excerpts from their rousing Elton John musical tribute to a widely receptive audience.
What a great promise that MenAlive continues to remind us all of why this country is great.
"We do this for the love of performance, community outreach and friendship." ~ MenAlive
For more about MenAlive and how you can support their mission, and see more about their 15th Anniversary Season, go to: ocgmc.org.
Through music, men's voices unite to entertain, inform, bring healing, joy, friendship and build bridges to the public at large.
"We do this for the love of performance, community outreach and friendship."— MenAlive
On August 12, 2012 Men Alive Chorus held a special Launch Party event at the Center Club to formally announce that the legendary LIZA MINNELLI will be the guest
MenAlive will perform again at the Hollywood Bowl
Q&A with OCGMC's Artistic Director, Bob Gunn
MenAlive's current Artistic Director is Bob Gunn.
Bob was selected by a search committee in 2014 to succeed Rich Cook, and is a founding member of MenAlive.
He served as Assistant Director from early 2002. A professional musician with more than 25 years of experience, Bob holds a Bachelors Degree in Piano Performance, Music Theory and Education from Azusa Pacific University.
I recently caught up with Bob to discuss his vision and mission with MenAlive.
Q) Bob, Since you became Artistic Director for MenAlive in Orange County, what has been one of your biggest challenges in keeping the shows fresh and lively as MenAlive starts its 15th season?
A) Coming up with the next great concert idea is certainly one of those big challenges! I just finished my first year as the Artistic Director for MenAlive. It was a challenging year as we faced a huge transition after the retirement of our Founding Director, Rich Cook. A transition like that has its own unique challenges. We’ve worked extremely hard this past year to get ourselves onto a solid foundation that will help us move forward.
Q) What has been one of your most rewarding experiences thus far?
A) Definitely performing at the Hollywood Bowl this last month! We sang at the Bowl several years ago.. I was on piano then, this was my first time directing a concert at the Bowl, something I’ll always cherish. Nothing like singing to 17,000 people on a hillside amphitheater in LA.
Q) You are actually one of the founding members of MenAlive in Orange County, what has been the biggest impact over the years that the group has had on the community?
A) Orange County is a vast, spread out area.. as LGBT folks have mainstreamed into society we’ve lost most of our hubs, gay ghettos.. In many ways we have become the heart and soul of our community. Not only are we a performing arts group that loves to sing and entertain, but we have become a close knit family between our singers, volunteers and board.
Q) How many shows do you do a year, and what can patrons expect this 15th year from MenAlive?
A) We do 3 shows a year, Holiday, Spring and Summer. We strive to be wildly entertaining, providing quality music with our own quirky take.
Q) What show would you like to do that you have not done yet?
A) The next one..!
Q) Has any of the MenAlive, or Gay Men's Choruses ever gotten together from the different cities and done one big show?
A) We are part of a larger organization of Gay and Lesbian Choruses that have been around for several decades now. Every four years we get together with other choruses from around the country (and the world) and spend several days celebrating each other. Lots of incredible music and great connections.
Q) Where do you see MenAlive going artistically over the next 5 years?
A) Now that we’ve tackled our transition hurdle, we’re focused on broadening our artistic capabilities and creating powerful partnerships with other artistic groups here in the OC.
Q) Any messages for your community you would like to share, either about this year's show, or personally with respect to the organization's continued mission?
A) With greater acceptance of the LGBT community, it’s tempting to think that Gay and Lesbian Choruses are a thing of the past. I don’t buy that. There is something almost magical that happens when a group of gay men get together and sing, and it’s something that we don’t quite find anywhere else in our community. It’s a soul-filled celebration of who we are individually and what we can accomplish together, that is wholly positive and just happens to also bring joy to those who listen. We will continue to make our mark on the cultural and artistic scene here in Orange County and welcome any that want to come and make a difference with us!