San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) events are always among the best of the year, but we are especially excited about Paradise Found, which will be presented March 30–April 1 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu Dance Company, led by Director and Kumu Hula (Hula Master) Patrick Makuakane, will join the Chorus as special guest artists. Founded in 1985, the company is known for its unique contemporary style called hula mua, or “hula that evolves.” This form of dance blends traditional movements with non-Hawaiian music like opera, electronic, dance, alternative, and pop. The hypnotic dancers will be featured in beautiful productions on the Herbst stage with SFGMC.
The concert will additionally include several world-premiere pieces. One is the 15-minute epic work “Paradiso,” by SFGMC Composer-in-Residence Dr. James Granville Eakin III. Based on the writings of Dante, “Paradiso” is breathtaking, radiating with bold conviction and vivid color, and is anchored by three trios guiding the listener from despair to ultimate joy, backed by the power of the entire Chorus of 250 men. Another two are collectively called “Sanctuary,” by world-renowned composer Ola Gjeilo, whom the Chorus commissioned to write “New Year’s Carol” in 2014.
“Rather than tell you what paradise is, we are going to give you a huge smorgasbord from which to select,” SFGMC artistic director Tim Seelig told the San Francisco Bay Times. “The ‘Paradise Found’ buffet is literally overflowing with delights—each designed to tickle a different sense.”
“You’ll be enthralled with the stunning representations of paradise such as the two world premieres by Ola Gjeilo, ‘Sanctuary,’ and James Eakin’s ‘Paradiso,’” he said. “To Ola and his librettist Charles Anthony Silvestri, a place of peace is a green oasis in the midst of a bustling city. It is definitely something we San Franciscans love to do. You’ll swoon to the men singing ‘Bali Hai’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ And you’ll come right out of that seat when the stunning dancers of Na Lei Hulu literally fill the stage with breathtaking hula. Finishing off the buffet will be a surprise desert the likes of which you’ve never seen—guaranteed. There will be everything from leis to ukuleles, hula to heaven, Paradise to Polynesia.”
He continued, “Preparing this concert has been a ten-year journey for me. It was ten years ago when I was introduced to Dante’s Paradiso and began dreaming about a concert around that gargantuan tome … It is a true mirror of our own lives and our journey in search of peace, tranquility and unity. At the darkest point of our lives, we are led to each layer of self-awareness until we find our own paradise surrounded by friends, family and music. And that is only a small part of the concert.”
“One of the hallmarks of SFGMC is singing familiar music the audience loves mixed in with brand new interesting repertoire,” Seelig added. “You’ll delight to the Hawaiian War Chant a la Bette Midler. Along the way, we sing an incredible piece by Broadway composer Andrew Lippa, who also composed ‘I Am Harvey Milk’ for SFGMC four years ago. The piece is titled ‘Dance with the Storm.’ It pretty much sums up our lives right now. We have a storm brewing and we must somehow make peace until the storm passes over. ‘Way Up There’ is a piece composed by Tena Clark for Patti LaBelle, commissioned by NASA for the 100th Anniversary of flight.”
“Imagine, if you will, that whatever your concept of paradise or heaven might be, they’ve installed an emotional roller coaster. Get on board. It’s going to be a fabulous ride.”
Paradise, the spring concert for SFGMC’s Season 39, will be presented at four performances: Thursday, March 30, at 8 pm; Friday, March 31, at 8 pm; and Saturday, April 1, at 2:30 and 8 pm. Tickets range in price from $25–65 and are available now at www.SFGMC.org or by calling City Box Office at 415-392-4400.
In other news, the Chorus is already working hard on its 40th Season, which starts in August, and on the forthcoming Lavender Pen Tour. As Seelig told us, “These are busy and wonderful times for SFGMC.”