Where it all began…
In the early 1990s, Rich Cook attended a performance of the Turtle Creek Chorale, a prominent gay men's chorus from Dallas, Texas. Inspired by the performance, he began thinking about the need for a similar chorus in Orange County.
Over the years, Rich often returned to the idea but the timing never seemed right. Then in the summer of 2001, he went to a concert of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. Sitting in the audience, he again thought about the need for a gay chorus in Orange County. He felt the time had come to nurture and share his vision with others.
Enlisting the help of friends and reaching out to AIDS Services Foundation Orange County (ASF) for support, Rich began turning his vision into reality. With ASF helping greatly in the initial stages helping publicize the nascent chorus, Rich posted notices around Orange County announcing auditions in September. Then he crossed his fingers and hoped the singers would come.
"I made an agreement with myself: if you have 12 guys, go ahead," Rich recalled. On that first rehearsal night in early September, 13 men came and joined the chorus. MenAlive - The Orange County Gay Men's Chorus was born.
Today the Chorus numbers more than 130 singers and 180 overall members, and regularly performs its shows to audiences of more than 2000. MenAlive is proud to be recognized as a major partner in the arts community of Orange County.
Season 15 (2015-2016): MenAlive opened its 15th Season by performing selections from “Elton John - The One” at the Hollywood Bowl. In December, Bob Gunn, along with MenAlive’s Creative Manager, Robb Neale and the MenAlive Chorus presented “It’s a Wonderful Christmas, Carol!” A mashup of “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol”. For the spring concert, we felt it was time to share our own personal stories of struggle, triumph and love with our audience in a concert titled “We Are Family”. MenAlive was fortunate to be invited to share selections from this concert at several Outreach events around Orange County that included performances at Church of the Foothills in Tustin, Irvine United Congregational Church and at the opening ceremonies for the 30th Anniversary OC AIDS Walk at William Mason Regional Park in Irvine. We ended our 15th Season returning to the Great White Way, Broadway in “B’[email protected]”. Where MenAlive highlighted the latest music from Broadway Musicals such as “Hamilton”, “The Book of Mormon” and “Kinky Boots”, just to name a few
Season 14 (2014-2015): Incoming Artistic Director, Bob Gunn, kicked off the season with “Jolly Holly Follies” - an old-fashioned holiday variety show – an affectionate update of the holidays we all love and remember – and a rockin’ holiday bash! In the spring, the music of Aretha, Beyoncé, Cher, Katy, Lady Gaga and, of course, Madonna rocked our stage as we paid tribute to the fabulous females who have rocked our world and had our backs for the last half century. “She Got the Beat - Dedicated to the Ones We Love.” And, finally our summer show followed the Yellow Brick Road for a raucous and rollicking show highlighting the music music of our very own diva, “Elton John – The One”. We all felt the love as we celebrated his multi-faceted and glittering career.
Season 13 (2013-2014): Our holiday show, “A Snowy White Christmas” brought cheer to a small cottage deep in the snowy woods with music from the first full-length animated movie. Snow White’s score was so popular it became the first movie to release a soundtrack album. Spring’s “The Beatles” provided a wealth of gems from their vast and varied songbook. MenAlive brought the Fab Four’s legacy to life with 28 gems in a groovy evening of guitars, gurus, mop-tops and toe-tapping joy. Summer brought “Top of the Charts,” a mash up of blockbuster pop hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s with mega hits from Motown, Queen, Michael Jackson, Abba, Tina Turner and more. A fitting finale as our founding Artistic Director stepped down from the podium after starting and leading MenAlive through 13 seasons of great growth and great joy. We are forever indebted to Rich Cook for having the courage and vision to start MenAlive in conservative Orange County. In the process, he provided a home for and built a family of more than 400 hundred gay men in Southern California. Bravo, maestro!
Season 12 (2012-2013):
We welcomed another diva who has had our backs in “Liza Minnelli with MenAlive in a Winter Spectacular”. And it was spectacular working with Liza and her personal stage band to present an unforgettable holiday show at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts. In Spring we paid tribute to the brilliant music of another music diva in “Strike a Pose – Madonna Musical Madness”. Summer brought “Made in America!”, a tribute American music, ranging from Gershwin to “Ragtime” to Neil Diamond and Katy Perry.
Season 11 (2011-2012):
In December, we hosted the Riverside City College Marching Tigers under the direction of Gary Loche at The Wonderful Worlds of Christmas. The audience cheered as the band members played and marched down the aisles to join the chorus onstage for The March of the Toy Soldiers. Our toy drive benefitted Giving Children Hope. This was followed by Candlelight Vespers, a free concert for the community, on December 23 at Newport Harbor Lutheran Church. A love offering benefitted The Trevor Project. Academy Affair 2012 was held at the glamorous Grand Ballroom of the Balboa Bay Club and Resort. Honorees at this event were Pearl Jemison-Smith and Robin Voss. Our Spring show, Pop Goes the Opera, was a hit with the audience. In May, we were invited to perform at AIDS Walk in California Adventure, Disneyland. In addition, MenAlive walkers raised money to help fight AIDS/HIV. July found the entire chorus of 130 singers in Denver for the Ninth GALA Festival. Among almost 200 gay and lesbian choruses, MenAlive’s performance of Von Trapped! was an outstanding hit. Barely a week later, the show was performed at our home, the Irvine Barclay Theatre to sell-out crowds.
Season 10 (2010-2011): To kick off the Tenth Anniversary season, a founders/members reception was held at the Anaheim White House in October. The event was underwritten by a generous donor who wishes to remain anonymous. The season shows opened with Desperately Seeking Santa at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Our first toy drive was a huge success. This year, the number of season subscribers exceeded 800. Inspiration Vespers was held at St. George’s Episcopal Church in January. Our second annual gala fund raiser, Academy Affair 2011 was held in February at The Westin South Coast Plaza where we honored John Chaing, Dr. Max Schneider and Ron Smelt, and Lieutenant Dan Choi with Bridge Awards. April found audience members dancing in the aisles to ABBAQueen. Our spring audience donated generously to the Japan Relief Fund following the devastating earthquake and tsunami. In May we collaborated with Orange County Equality Coalition to hold a Harvey Milk Day celebration in downtown Santa Ana. Our tenth anniversary show in July, Greasy Hairspray with guest star Nikki Blonsky, played to three sold-out houses. A Latino outreach, Fiesta Abriendo Caminos, was held at Yost Theater in Santa Ana.
Season 9 (2009-2010): MenAlive ushered in the holiday season in December 2009 with Laughing All the Way. In February MenAlive had a gala fundraiser at the Anaheim White House Restaurant, Academy Affair. This was followed by Fever of Love in March. May found MenAlive presenting “Masterpiece Matinee” entitled Songs of Hope and co-hosting the First Annual Orange County Harvey Milk Day Celebration. A highlight of the season was MenAlive opening Abba Fest at the Hollywood Bowl before an audience of 17,000. The season ended on a high note with Comedy Tonight, featuring music from films, TV and Broadway and guest-starring Leslie Jordan.
Season 8 (2008-2009): During the eighth season, MenAlive added a new bonus show to its annual show schedule: the classically-driven Masterpiece Matinee. The season concluded in July 2009 with Wicked to Oz, the fastest selling show in the chorus’ history. Celebrating the magical Land of Oz, the concert featured the great songs from the beloved classic The Wizard of Oz, the enduring The Wiz, and the Broadway smash hit Wicked. The show performed to sold-out, SRO audiences.
Season 7 (2007-2008): MenAlive began its 7th Season with a very special cabaret show in October 2007, with special guest Sam Harris. This was followed by three performances of the holiday show, Holly, Jolly Hollywood at the very beginning of December. This was the first season that MenAlive began offering three (3) performances of every show to meet audience demand. The season closed in May 2008 with a special pops show at the main Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, with very special guest, Broadway legend Bernadette Peters. Later that summer, MenAlive traveled to Miami to perform at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Chorus' 8th International Choral Festival. This was MenAlive’s second appearance at the quadrennial festival.
Season 6 (2006-2007): Entering its sixth season, membership in MenAlive topped 100 singers for the first time, and season subscribers exceeded 700 patrons. In December 2006, MenAlive presented its holiday concert at the newly opened Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the first gay-identified organization to perform in the new venue.
Season 5 (2005-2006): In the fall of 2005, MenAlive performed with Debbie Reynolds and Ruta Lee at the star-studded Thalians' 50th Anniversary Ball in West Los Angeles. With the purpose of raising funds and awareness for mental illness, the Thalian Gala Affair drew more than 800 attendees including a long list of noted celebrities. In December 2005, MenAlive performed two sold-out performances of its holiday show at the Irvine Barclay Theater. And in July 2006 the Chorus closed its season with its 5th Anniversary Celebration concert, its first ever all-Broadway show, with special guest noted Broadway and Cabaret singer Michael Feinstein.
Season 4 (2004-2005): In August 2004, only weeks after its return from Montreal, the Chorus held its annual donor appreciation party where Carl St. Clair, Conductor of the Pacific Symphony, and his wife, were the featured guests. A last minute surprise found MenAlive singing under the baton of Maestro St. Clair, to the delight of those in the audience. Starting its fourth season, MenAlive held its annual chorus retreat in October 2004. The choristers were privileged to have John Alexander, conductor of the Pacific Chorale, join them at the retreat as their guest clinician. Before closing its fourth season, MenAlive traveled to Portland, Oregon, where the Chorus performed jointly with the Portland Gay Men's Chorus (PGMC) and the Vancouver Men's Chorus in celebration of PGMC's 25th Anniversary.
Season 3 (2003-2004): In the spring of 2004, in the middle of its third season, MenAlive was presented at the Pacific Chorale Invitational Choral Festival at the Orange County Performing Arts Center where they performed with the Pacific Chorale and other distinguished choruses. This was a wonderful accomplishment for such a young chorus less than three years old at the time.
To close its third season in early July 2004, the Chorus performed before near-capacity audiences at the beautiful Irvine Barclay Theatre. And a week later, MenAlive traveled to Montreal to perform at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Chorus' 7th International Choral Festival, an event that attracted nearly 200 choruses and 6000 people from around the world.
Season 2 (2002-2003): During the second season, Chorus membership continued to grow, reaching more than 70 members. By the end of the season, in the summer of 2003, MenAlive made the leap from holding its concerts in church venues and presented its summer concert at the South Coast Repertory Theater.
Season 1 (2001-2002): MenAlive’s debut concert was held at the Irvine United Congregational Church. With 24 singers, the chorus lit up the sanctuary with their voices to a standing room only audience. Six months later, in June 2002, the chorus had almost doubled in size to 45 singers. The concert, appropriately titled, This is Our Time, heralded MenAlive’s arrival in Orange County and Southern California. The Orange County and Long Beach Blade acclaimed that the Chorus and the concert “captivated the audience with its perfect blend of musical precision and heartfelt emotion.” During that first season, MenAlive established the “Founder’s Circle” for those supporters who shared the MenAlive vision and could assist financially. More than 50 persons, couples and businesses each donated $1000 or more to ensure the success of the newborn chorus. MenAlive will always be grateful to those who helped launch MenAlive.
Stay tuned for even more accomplishments as MenAlive continues to grow due to the enthusiastic support of audience members like you. Thank you!
And we remember those we have lost. In Memorium