Dallas — “Before the Backstreet Boys, before NSYNC, before Culture Club, the original boy band was born.” That’s the first phrase uttered by the emcee before pre-curtain trivia begins. The statement is said in jest, but simultaneously works to set apart this spotlight on the 1980s from many like it that have been very popular since the 2010s started.
In 1980, 38 men joined their talents to form a group that helped redefine the influence that choirs in North America, specifically all-male choruses, can have on a larger community.
Yes, this is the Turtle Creek Chorale’s summer concert, at Dallas City Performance Hall, spotlighting radio and Broadway hits, TV themes, and a few novelties from the 1980s. It’s a common enough occurrence that even many middle and high schools are now performing around the nation. And yes, this is the traditional “fun” concert finale of the TCC season, complete with a pre-concert costume contest and trivia, and the first ever concert-length sing-along format for TCC. But even in this environment, the ensemble never completely breaks away from the emotional integrity of this year’s concert season.
Nostalgia is the reminder of what was cheesy, heartbreaking, imperfect, and downright silly, but also works to bring laughter, joy, and wonder over a time that once was. The first act begins in this nostalgic space, kicking off in the middle of a modern day reenactment of a scene from an ’80s movie blockbuster. Through the first act into the beginning of the second act, every dance number, arrangement, transition (most of which are recreations of famous ’80s movie and sitcom scenes, which are just as entertaining as the singing) and a chorus of 150 men all dressed in their own ’80s creations (sometimes in Dayglo T-shirts under black jackets) keep the audience in that space of what made people laugh and get excited decades ago.
Not all the song arrangements are stellar, nor do they necessarily need to be, but the program is intentionally designed so that some arrangements certainly stand out as moments to wait for. There is the West African influenced arrangement of the Academy Award-winning Carly Simon song “Let the River Run” (from Working Girl), an a cappella arrangement of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” that the Chamber Chorus nails with impressive precision, and an arrangement of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” that, despite its cheeky presentation, highlights the melody and luscious harmony in a way that shows why the song has lived on through the decades. And though there are too many great solos to mention here, the solo highlight of the Friday night performance has to go to Stephen Fontaine’s performance on “Total Eclipse.” Despite a malfunctioning mic, the audience could still clearly hear his voice piercing over a full band and chorus behind him.
The second act, after a “thrilling” opener complete with fog and a zombie dance, transitions into a comedic ’80s Broadway medley that pokes fun at all the overdone sentimentality that the big musicals of the decade were all too fond of visiting. Indeed, that’s what the creators of this concert want the audience to believe: that no one onstage takes himself seriously. They have made everyone laugh and sing along the whole evening.
But it’s all a set-up to something that the Turtle Creek Chorale is a master of, especially this season, and it’s a performance arc that seems to be a hallmark of the few TCC concerts that I have witnessed: Fill the audience will warm-fuzzies and then smack them with song after song meant to stir the emotions that many do their best not to display in public.
This time around, TCC weaves songs by Sondheim, Foreigner and U2 for their genuine “pull at your heartstrings” effect. But the magic lies in the chorus’s ability to keep the audience in that emotional place for 20 minutes or so, which isn’t the easiest feat for a community chorus to do. This spotlight on the ’80s is no different and it never quite lets the audience escape that this is the real deal, and not just because the ensemble was founded in the ’80s. Whether it is driven by their parents’ or their own childhood and teen memories—of working and partying or just surviving the 1980s—these performers communicate what they sing. The various facial expressions and the swells into wall-of-sound proportions are what keeps these men onstage connected to the audience, some of whom have been coming so TCC concerts since the decade being tributed.
The Turtle-ly ’80s Concert is yet another reminder of what the Turtle Creek Chorale mission has always been, and Sean Baugh’s direction is artistically embodying: building a community of performers from all walks of life to help foster an even larger community of support that promotes harmony and spreads goodwill. This sing-along is not just a random act of fun, but a well-calculated device that brings about the sense of goodwill on which TCC is continuing to build.
And fair warning, if you choose not to sing along, be sure you’re not sitting next to involved audience members who will call you out for not participating. Not cool, dudes.