You can expect just about anything when the Vancouver Men’s Chorus brings its next show to the Anvil Centre Theatre.
Just don’t expect a typical choral concert.
The choir is coming to town for Singing Can Be a Drag 2020, an annual fundraiser that gives chorus members a chance to don their finest frocks and highest heels and offer up a live-singing drag queen extravaganza. It’s onstage Saturday, March 14 with shows at 5 and 9 p.m.
“It’s not the normal kind of drag show you would see on Davie Street,” said chorus member Cameron Power, a New West resident and one of the performers. “Drag queens don’t normally sing live.”
“We are not going to lip sync for our lives,” added Humphrey Tan, a chorus member who’s both co-producing and performing in the show. “Every single one of our acts is live singing.”
About 35 of the choir’s 120 or so singers are involved in the concert, with 25 queens and another 10 backup performers. It’s hosted by New West drag queen Hedda Nipplegate (Todd Lund), a chorus member whom Tan describes as the “mama hen” of the drag queens.
The show’s 22 numbers include solos, duets and group numbers, and performances will run the gamut from comedic to suggestive to emotional, with a range of music including current and classic pop and rock as well as musical theatre.
“There’s funny numbers, but there’s also beautiful ballads,” Power said. “You’re taken on a rollercoaster of emotion.”
Tan recalls a past year in which one of the chorus members, whose father had recently passed away, performed a heart-rending version of Not My Father’s Son, from the musical Kinky Boots.
“There’s those really intimate moments with the audience,” he said.
Then there’s the not-so-serious moments, like this year’s performance by the “Rice Girls” – a Spice Girls-esque ensemble of singers of Asian descent (including Tan), offering up I’m Not Ready to Make Rice (a take-off on the Dixie Chicks’ I’m Not Ready to Make Nice).
Power, an Australian who’s been living here for five years, is just about to become a Canadian citizen; by the time of the New West concert, he’ll have just received his citizenship. In honour of the occasion, his drag persona, Elaine da Nundah (say that with an Australian accent to figure it out) will be taking a well-known, classic Canadian pop song and changing the lyrics to reflect the attitudes of Vancouver residents.
“I’m not actually a very good singer, so I rely more on comedy to sell my act,” Power says with a laugh.
Other performers will take their numbers in a more “adult” direction, with strong language and a large amount of sexual innuendo, so the singers warn that the concert is suitable for adults only.
All the queens are entirely responsible for their own acts, from musical arrangements and accompaniment – some use live piano and drum, while others perform to backing tracks – to costuming, makeup and hair.
None are professional drag queens, though some have been performing in this drag show since it began 13 years ago. Others are entirely new to the world of drag.
“For a lot of us it’s a very liberating experience,” Tan said. “It’s very, very fun.”
The show has grown a great deal since the early years, when it was held on a tiny stage in the corner of a Davie Street club – long before drag became a mainstream pop culture phenomenon thanks to TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Back then, the producers still had to beg chorus members to take part, and the audience was small.
Now, there are so many chorus members clamouring to take part that not everyone can fit in the show, and audiences have been so receptive that the chorus now performs the show four times. Along with the two Anvil Centre shows, there are two at the Revue Stage on Granville Island on Feb. 29.
“We’ve allowed it to get bigger for the sake of audiences,” Power said. “We still let it be amateur, which is kinda the charm of it. … There’s something kind of adorable about watching non-professional drag queens still being amazing, still giving it their all.”
Tan notes the show is just one small part of the choir’s larger mission as Canada’s first LGBTQ choir.
“The Vancouver Men’s Chorus has this long history for the community, and it’s very important to me that this choir do well,” he said.
He pointed out much has changed for the LGBTQ community since the choir started in 1981 but noted the community still faces discrimination and stigma.
“Singing is a great way to bridge that gap, to see us in a very positive, fun light,” he said.
CHECK IT OUT
WHAT: Singing Can Be a Drag 2020, presented by the Vancouver Men’s Chorus
WHEN AND WHERE: Saturday, March 14, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Anvil Centre Theatre, 777 Columbia St. (Doors open at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.)
TICKETS: General admission $35, patron tickets $65 (including tax receipt). (Note: the concert is for ages 18 and up.) Buy at www.vancouvermenschorus.ca.