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‘Cause it’s a thriller, thriller night’

By Margie M. Palmer

It’s been nearly two months since the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ (SDGMC) performance of the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres baseball game was drowned out by a pre-recorded female voice.

And while the group is currently focused on preparing for their upcoming summer blockbuster show, “Thriller,” SDGMC Executive Director Bob Lehman admits it’s been a hectic couple of months.

“It’s been non-stop for us,” he said. “We had the Padres thing, we performed for the first time on the big main stage at the San Diego County Fair with Carly Rae Jepsen and then later that night was the shooting in Orlando. It’s been one thing after another.”

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The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus on the steps of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts earlier this month, during the national GALA conference. Members in the front row had performed a Beach Boys medley, choreographed by Joe Gregore. (Photo by Patrick Hagerty)

They’ve also been busy traveling outside of America’s Finest City.

In early July, approximately 100 members of the 150-member group attended the international Gala Choruses Festival in Denver. Lehman noted that approximately 7,000 men and women from all corners of the globe convened in the Mile High City to celebrate the LGBT choral community.

“There were a lot of people there who would see us and immediately reach out to congratulate us on how we handled the Padres incident,” Lehman said.

Although the Padres were quick to fire the DJ who was responsible for the flub, the SDGMC asked that he be reinstated after he posted a heartfelt apology on his Facebook page.

“We right away told [Gala Festival attendees] about all the good things that were coming from this in San Diego,” Lehman said.

The chorus received a warm welcome at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally the Friday of Pride weekend. (Photos courtesy SDGMC)

The chorus received a warm welcome at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally the Friday of Pride weekend. (Photos courtesy SDGMC)

Since the incident at Petco Park, which made headlines across the nation, the Padres have met with Lehman and other local LGBT leaders, renewed their commitment to the community, participated in last weekend’s San Diego Pride Parade for the first time ever, and Mike Dee, the ball club’s CEO, even spoke at the Spirit of Stonewall Rally on Friday night on the Pride Festival grounds.

“That’s what the choral movement is all about — coming together to make things change using our voices,” Lehman said.

SDGMC's portable banner for the parade

SDGMC’s portable banner for the parade

Their time in Denver was a whirlwind. In addition to performing alongside the San Diego Women’s Chorus, which is something Lehman said SDGMC intends to do more of, they also decided to preview the opening number of their upcoming show.

Thriller features the greatest hits of Michael Jackson and the opening number, which Lehman describes as a medley of “Can You Feel it,” “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and “Wanna Be Starting Something,” had the Gala crowd roaring.

“We knocked it out of the park,” he said. “It was great.”

What’s perhaps most notable about the upcoming “Thriller” show, said SDGMC Artistic Director RC Haus, is that most of Michael Jackson’s songs have never been arranged for a chorus such as SDGMC.

“It was about a year and a half in the making,” Haus said. “We needed to get the licensing and hire arrangers because the arrangements weren’t available. There were a couple for maybe ‘Thriller’ and ‘You Are Not Alone,’ but most [of the songs] have never been arranged for an all-male chorus.”

The performers had just three months to prepare for the show, Haus said, adding that one of the biggest challenges has been to get 150 men to all sing a solo lead in a Michael Jackson song together.

(l to r) Michael Anthony, Joey Grzenia, Jermaine Staten and Paul Hannasch (Courtesy SDGMC)

(l to r) Michael Anthony, Joey Grzenia, Jermaine Staten and Paul Hannasch (Courtesy SDGMC)

Lehman agreed, laughing.

The SDGMC is “an incredibly diverse group,” Lehman said. “We have a lot of generations. We have some men who are in their 70s and one who is 20. Some are very familiar with [Jackson’s] music and for some, this has been the first time they’ve been exposed.”

Others have been prepping by streaming Michael Jackson’s greatest hits on their i-devices, Haus said, while others have been downloading and singing along with rehearsal tracks.

“Technology is definitely a lot different than it was when I was younger,” Haus continued, adding that in addition to the men needing to learn their vocal parts, they’ve also needed to learn quite a bit of choreography.

“It’s been a lot of fun.”

Lehman said that although the past few weeks have been nonstop hectic for the group, it’s definitely been a time of growth and cohesion.

Executive Director Bob Lehman is excited about "Thriller." (Courtesy SDGMC)

Executive Director Bob Lehman is excited about “Thriller.” (Courtesy SDGMC)

“We’ve gone through so much together and we’ve been bonding like we never have before,” he said. “That’s a whole new experience that I haven’t seen in the past six years I’ve been with the chorus. It’s given us some new, incredible energy.”

“Thriller” will include tracks from Jackson’s entire performance career, spanning everything from “ABC” with his brothers in the Jackson 5, to “We are the World,” a charity single written and performed by Jackson and a supergroup for children in Africa, to his own solo hits.

“Thriller” will be presented at 8 p.m. on Saturday, July 30 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 31 at the Balboa Theatre, located at 868 Fourth Ave., Downtown. Advance tickets are available at ticketmaster.com or the Balboa Theatre Box Office. Saturday tickets start at $37 and Sunday tickets start at $34. Discounts are available for groups, military and seniors. Those who purchase tickets online and use the code PRIDE will receive a $4-per-ticket discount. Limited VIP reception tickets are available for $35. For more information, visit tinyurl.com/gtyo89s.

—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at margiep@alumni.pitt.edu.

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