“Unbreakable” was unbelievable.
The Austin premiere of the history-themed LGBTQ musical/oratorio by Andrew Lippa was an unqualified triumph for the newly rechristened Austin Gay Men’s Chorus, which co-commissioned the piece. The two-concert gig at Bates Recital Hall also scored the 30-year-old choir, which counts more than 100 members, its largest audiences to date.
“Unbreakable” was also unbelievably moving. The singers wept. The audience wept. We all wept together.
But don’t presume that Lippa’s 70-minute score was a downer. The past 100 years of LGBTQ history in this country is a subject with plenty of low points, including systematic homophobia and, of course, the AIDS crisis.
Yet this show was full of uplifting tunes and encouraging stories. The title song itself reappeared regularly to keep community spirits high.
Before detailing the performances, however, let’s share two pieces of news: Capital City Men’s Chorus, founded in 1989, now goes by the much bolder name of Austin Gay Men’s Chorus. Board chairman Paul Halstead also announced from the stage the inaugural Karl Logue Service Award, named for and given to Logue who showed up for the group’s very first rehearsal and has played piano for every major performance since, while also composing many of its selections. That’s what I call a record of honor.
The actual show, conducted by transformative artistic director Daniel Arredondo and staged by Kaitlin Hopkins, often focused on four soloists, each given star moments from LGBTQ history. Rachel Webb shined as transgender activist Sylvia Rivera and Becky Knox unfurled a commanding voice as Gertrude Stein. Nicholas Rodriguez delivered two of the showstoppers, “Already Dead” and “All People,” with bravura. Broadway composer Andrew Lippa played a couple of darker roles; he also pulled off another of the most memorable songs in “The Happy Homosexual.”
For many audience members,, however, the most impressive element of the show was the flawless performance by this community of voices, always a group with flair, but now an unbreakable band of artists of the highest quality.
“Unbreakable” should be experienced by audiences in every city and town and performed in every school. It’s an historical and artistic landmark.