“On Choral Democracy” *****
By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)
From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter
You want choral perfection, go see the Philharmonic. You want a soul-fueling coming-together of strangers to create music that restores your faith in humanity, at least for a little while, check out Choir! Choir! Choir!, which earns all three exclamation points in its name.
As the crowd gathered in The Public Theater lobby to learn and perform a song, a woman leaned toward me and eagerly said she’d attended a Choir! Choir! Choir! event the previous night. “It was in Jersey! Great fun!” she said. A few minutes later, when directors Nobu Adilman and Daveed Goldman stepped on stage and asked who’d sung with them before, more than half the hands in the room flew up.
That’s when I realized I was surrounded by choir groupies.
It’s easy to see why one would follow Nobu and Daveed—who wouldn’t follow joy? They’ve been bringing groups of strangers together in song since 2011, first in Toronto and eventually across the world. The premise is simple: they teach the assembled singers various vocal parts of a pop song they’ve arranged. The evening culminates in a filmed performance, sometimes with a special guest. Patti Smith joined us for this event at the Public, along with drummer Stewart Copeland (The Police) on percussion, playing a mean frying pan . . . that’s not a joke.
Patti Smith’s 80s iconic protest song “People Have the Power” was a suitable choice for this special event, which was part of The Public Theater and Onassis USA’s Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming, a series of democracy-themed productions that includes Socrates and a comedic take on Antigone.
How’s this for democratic convention: the Choir! Choir! Choir! tickets were free with only reservations required (it “sold out” fast), and the performance was live-streamed on Instagram.
A chorus is a profoundly appropriate medium for exploring the concept of democracy—the rule of the people. A choral piece is successful when all voices are beautifully blended and no individual voice stands out.
Patti Smith told us when her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith wrote the song with her, he wanted people to sing it together. I will always remember the look on Ms. Smith’s face as we started humming our “oohs and ahhs”—it was the face of someone soaking in a moment.
Because the night didn’t just belong to Patti. It belonged to us: the several hundred singers happily squished into the lobby of The Public Theater. She didn’t enter the scene ‘til we’d learned our parts, so most of the evening was about us choristers, fumbling our way through together.
We were handed a lyric sheet. It’s not necessary to know how to read music—and you’ll be disappointed if you’re hoping for sheet music or a SATB arrangement at a Choir! Choir! Choir! event. The song was split into two vocal parts, and yours was determined by where you were standing instead of your actual range, resulting in some strained octave jumping at times.
Nobu and Daveed brought an entertaining good-cop, bad-cop teaching style, with Nobu providing the enthusiastic instruction and Daveed the snarky commentary. “No solos!” he playfully scolded when someone came in too early (just like every other choir director I’ve ever had).
It’s not necessary to actually be able to sing, either. The man behind me exuberantly delivered his off-pitch notes loudly into my ear. But to whine about that sort of thing goes against the spirit of the night. This was a democracy: the people’s chorus.
The Public Theater lobby
425 Lafayette St., NYC
Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. firstname.lastname@example.org @elyseorecchio