fb-pixel Skip to main content

Boston Gay Men’s Chorus and Disney harmonize on a first-of-its-kind concert

From left: Anand Sitram, Andy Chau, William Neely, and John Strumwasser sing as a quartet during a Boston Gay Men’s Chorus rehearsal of “Disney PRIDE In Concert” at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

More than 200 members of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus gathered last week for their first rehearsal with an orchestra in more than two years.

It looked like joy. It felt like a reunion. It sounded like … a small world after all.

The group ran through what will be its first in-person concert since COVID-19 — the original program “Disney PRIDE In Concert,” with performances Saturday and Sunday at Symphony Hall.

The show isn’t just a medley of Disney hits; it’s a Disney-endorsed choral event that tells the personal stories of some of the group’s members through music from Disney films and theme parks.

Advertisement



That’s a huge deal, explained music director Reuben Reynolds. This is the first time that Disney Concerts has collaborated with any chorus to create an official live concert from its catalog.

Reynolds first approached Disney about putting together this kind of choral event 30 years ago, when he was living in Kansas City and working with the Heartland Men’s Chorus. “They said, yeah, we’re not even going to talk to you,” he said.

Then, in 2016, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus recorded a performance of “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King.” A few years later, when the live-action “Lion King” film was released, a publicity company representing Disney asked to use footage from it.

That inspired Reynolds to approach Disney again. In 2020, the company was not only receptive to the idea for the show, but enthusiastic. Arrangements began, and the result is a compilation of songs and storytelling.

There are seven featured stories during the program. Individual Boston chorus members talk about a personal experience; the narratives are then paired with songs, including “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “It’s a Small World,” and “Let It Go” from “Frozen.” The music was arranged for the program by accompanist and Boston Gay Men’s Chorus assistant music director Chad Weirick.

Advertisement



“Chorus members talk about young love, falling in love, getting married, people who died of AIDS, the Black experience, Black Lives Matter. We talk about people who have to journey long distances to find places where they can be accepted for who they are, including one man from South America, who came here, joined the chorus, and has just been awarded citizenship,” Reynolds said.

Disney is also allowing the show to be licensed by other ensembles that can pair it with their own members’ personal stories.

The Boston Gay Men's Chorus rehearses “Disney PRIDE In Concert” with an orchestra at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

The group knows the timing of this show is significant.

As rehearsals began early in 2022, Disney was thrust into the center of a debate in Florida, where in March Republican Governor Ron DeSantis had signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, referred to by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bars “classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade

At first, Disney stayed out of the heated debate about the bill. But after criticism for that silence, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the legislation. In April, Florida legislators voted to revoke Disney World’s special tax status.

Tyler Brewer, 32, who’s been with the chorus for nine years and is vice president of the ensemble’s board of directors, said that while he was disappointed with Disney’s initial lack of response to the legislation, he appreciated that the company ultimately took a stand.

Advertisement



“Family can disappoint you sometimes. But the thing about family is that you leave room for them to learn and grow with you,” he said.

Brewer said it’s been a joy to sing songs from his childhood that have also been important to the gay community.

“There were always characters struggling with their identity,” he said of his Disney favorites. “To be able to take that basis and tell our own stories that are just as diverse, if not more — to be able to take that platform and use that platform to magnify our voices — [that’s] how we learn and teach the world together.”

Singer Jake Pitochelli said returning to rehearsals and performances has been a celebration for members who missed their musical community. Vocal ensembles, in many cases, were among the last to resume in-person performances after vaccines became available, he said. They’ve had to be patient.

“To be performing for the first time in more than 700 days … for so much of us, this is our family. We’ve been away from our family for the last two years,” he said. “And to be doing a concert like this, where everybody in the audience will know the songs — and the little kids, who will be singing ‘Let it Go.’ ”

From left: Alain Bouchard, Andrew Doucette, and Michael Lombo rehearse with Boston Gay Men's Chorus at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Reynolds knows the ubiquitous “Frozen” anthem will be a hit with the audience, but his favorite number in the concert is “God Help the Outcasts” from Disney’s 1996 movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” It has a special meaning to him when sung by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus.

Advertisement



“Disney gave us permission to rewrite the end of it. So now it’s ‘We are not outcasts — for we have found our home,’ ” Reynolds said. “And it is so powerful to finally say: ‘We have found our home.’ ”

DISNEY PRIDE IN CONCERT

Performed by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. At Symphony Hall, June 25 at 8 p.m. and June 26 at 3 p.m. Tickets from $29. www.bgmc.org

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.