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Review: Episode One of BGMC's 'Celebrity Spotlight' Series Features Never-Released Alex Newell Performances

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Oct 7, 2020
Alex Newell sang with the BGMC in June, 2014
Alex Newell sang with the BGMC in June, 2014  (Source:Screencap/Boston Gay Men's Chorus/YouTube)

The Boston Gay Men's Chorus reaches into its vaults to produce a three-part "Celebrity Spotlight" series drawn from past concerts. The first episode features a never-before-released video of Alex Newell's turn as a guest performer with the Chorus in 2014.

Full disclosure: This correspondent is a longtime member of the BGMC, though currently on a three-year hiatus from the Chorus. Ordinarily, I would not write a review of a production in which I had any participation, but I make an exception in the case of the "Celebrity Spotlight" series since the focus in the online episodes is not on the Chorus, but rather on guest artists who have been featured at BGMC concerts throughout the years. These reviews will adopt that same focus, concentrating on the guest performers and the technical presentation of the videos.

In terms of that presentation, these videos offer slick, multi-camera visual work that keeps attention on the star of the show while also appreciating the lighting and staging that was done for the concert experience. Most gratifying is the clarity of the audio, which has been remastered for this series: Newell's performance is crystal clear and well-balanced with the instrumentals, principally provided by BGMA Principal Accompanist and Assistant Music Director Chad Weirick, as well as the Chorus, which supports the guest performers with 200+ backup voices. The days of muddy, echoey, distant-sounding gay chorus audio are officially a thing of the past.

Episode One of the BGMC "Celebrity Spotlight" series is drawn from video footage and audio recordings made at the BGMC performances of their "Can't Stop the Beat" concerts at the New England Conservatory's Jordan Hall on June 12, 13, and 15 of 2014. Newell, who was at the time starring as Wade "Unique" Adams on the Ryan Murphy series "Glee" on Fox, was, as BGMC Music Director Reuben Reynolds III and his husband, Bill Casey, recall in the video, new to the Chorus - but, as Casey remembers, Newell was "utterly professional" in addition to being "bubbly and exciting." Newell, a Boston native, also brought a touch of home town familiarity to the show.

The episode commences with a stirring, poignant reading of "Meadowlark" from the Stephen Schwartz musical "The Baker's Wife," which is based on a 1938 French movie. It's a song beloved by divas, noted Casey, who goes on to praise Newell's vocal range and delivery.

The next selection, a song from "Dreamgirls" titled "I Am Changing," by Henry Krieger and Tom Even, proves Casey's assessments are not exaggerated. But even more thrilling proof of the singer's talents comes in his delivery of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's "Falling in Love with Love," originally from the musical "The Boys from Syracuse," but performed by Bernadette Peters in a 1997 Disney film version of "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella." Newell channels Peters to brilliant effect.

The first of two selections from the musical "Hairspray," Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's "I Know Where I've Been" raises the roof - and it also comes with an interesting story: Shaiman was in the audience and saw Newell's performance. The song subsequently found its way to an episode of "Glee," where, Casey notes, Newell's character Unique sang it "with a chorus of 200 trans people." In a subsequent interview, Newell explained how the song made the jump from the Jordan Conservatory stage to the TV series: Shaiman, he said, "emailed Ryan and told him to put it in."

Reynolds and Casey fill us in on Newell's current project, the role of Moe on the NBC series "Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist." "Alex identifies as a gender non-conforming gay man," Reuben notes, while Moe is a "gender non-binary" character. The very fact that a character such as Moe is on a major TV network program - and is played by an openly LGBTQ, non-binary actor - is, Reynolds marvels, a far cry from where we were just a few years ago.

The video wraps up on a pair of high notes: Newell's performance of the whip-smart and drop-dead funny "Random Black Girl" from Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond's "Homemade Fusion" (a song made famous by Patina Miller on the album "Out of Our Heads") and a return to "Hairspray" for a jubilant rendition of "You Can't Stop the Beat" by Shaiman and Wittman, arranged by J.A. Kawarski - the song that (understandably, when you hear Newell sing it) gave the concert its title.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having put most live performances on hold, fans of the BGMC will find a fitting - and professionally-produced - alternative in this series. The inaugural episode delivers the energy and joy of the Chorus' concerts, while also creating intimate moments as Reynolds and Casey share their recollections and anecdotes.

Future episodes will showcase performances by BGMC guest performers Nick Adams and Laura Benanti, with Adams' episode slated to premiere online on Oct. 15.


The BGMC's "Celebrity Spotlight" series premieres with Episode One: Alex Newell on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 7 pm at www.youtube.com/BGMC1982.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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