Sacramento Women's Chorus
Masquerade - October 18, 2014
by Dick Frantzreb
As I walked into the large John Smith Community Hall at Carmichael’s La Sierra Community Center, I felt an air of excitement in the room. The Sacramento Women’s Chorus’s sold-out “Masquerade” cabaret show was about to start. People were moving around getting their hors-d’oeuvres and drinks, many in costume. (Come in costume and be entered in a drawing for free tickets for the Christmas concert, they were told.) But there seemed to be a special energy in patrons and choristers alike.
I settled at one of the 8-person tables at opposite end of the room from the chorus, and as they began to sing, I found the acoustics surprisingly good. As the evening went on, I saw that soloists were miked, but the chorus on the risers was not. Still, I felt there was a good balance between the two and between them and the accompaniment: synthesizer, bass, and percussion. This is now the fourth time I’ve heard the Sacramento Women’s Chorus in the past year and a half, and it seems to me that they have gotten better – and more entertaining – each time.
The music was all light: much of it from Broadway shows or pop tunes from here and there among the past 60 or 70 years (including one song each, though, from Nora Jones and Lady Gaga). (Click here to open the program in a new window.) And perhaps it was the lively music that really turned the chorus loose. For the second tune, “Blue Moon,” they began moving on the risers, and pretty soon they filtered out into the audience, snapping their fingers and spreading their energy and joy to all of us. I thought about this afterwards. Magic happens when a chorus is able to surprise their audience, and this show was full of surprises.
Throughout most of the performance, choral numbers alternated with solos (or a duet in one case). To be honest, the quality of the solos was uneven, though several were remarkably good. And they all get an “A” for showmanship because none was sung straight, but accompanied by elaborate costumes and acting out the song.
To me, this show was all about fun. It was overflowing with gags, mostly in the form of costumes and props. For “Masquerade,” of course each chorus member had a creative mask. In “Do You Believe in Magic” singers held Halloween cut-outs that were highlighted by black light in the darkened room. In “The Pink Panther” chorus members circulated through the audience inspecting us with magnifying glasses as they sang. But it was the costumes that took everything over the top. It started with Artistic Director Robin Richie, dressed as the “phantom” for “The Music of the Night.” For the next doo-wop number, she sported a sequined jacket. Then for “All of Me,” loaded with props, Robin tossed away her lips, eyes, and heart, following the lyrics. For her solo in “Hey Good Lookin,” her costume, with Marge Simpson-high hair, resembled a cartoon character that was anything but good lookin’ as she sang into a mirror. And during the whole second half she was dressed as Captain Hook, and it was just a little freaky to see her direct the chorus with that hook.
At the beginning of the show, chorus members were dressed all in black with silver necklaces of different styles or other silver accessories. That emphasized the contrast when they came out in the second half with outrageous Halloween-style costumes. It started with the whole alto 2 section performing “The Addams Family” in costumes evocative of the characters in that classic cartoon (and now Broadway show). Then the rest of the chorus filled the risers with a mind-boggling array of costumes.
For all of the whimsy, there’s no question that a lot of thought and planning went into this show, and the evidence of professionalism was apparent first in the preparation of the performers: music was all memorized, props and choreography seemed to come off flawlessly, etc. There was also the polished emcee, the work of lighting and sound technicians, and the efficient handling of refreshments.
But what really impressed us in the audience was the spirit of the singers and their director – and their flamboyance was only part of the fun of this show. When the chorus members weren’t circulating through the audience, they were moving on the risers, feeling the music, and for us in the audience, the exhilaration they displayed was contagious. Bottom line? You can count on the Sacramento Women’s Chorus for a great show.