Boston Gay Men's Chorus Partners with Disney for History-Making Pride Concert

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday June 23, 2022

The BGMC and Walt Disney partner for a first-of-its-kidn Pride concert June 25 & 26
The BGMC and Walt Disney partner for a first-of-its-kidn Pride concert June 25 & 26  (Source:Disney)

Audiences will certainly feel the love when the Boston Gay Men's Chorus makes Pride — and music — history, partnering with Disney in a first-of-its-kind concert June 25 and 26.

For 40 years, the Boston Gay Men's Chorus has inspired, entertained, electrified, and informed audiences through the power of music. And the Chorus hasn't only done this for Boston audiences; famously, in 2005 the BGMC toured Poland, a notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ country, facing down threats and protestors in order to bring appreciative audiences its brand of storytelling through song.

Other BGMC tours followed, with a Middle East Tour in 2015 (in fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality on the very day the Chorus was touring the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, a day before the Chorus presented a concert in the city) and a South Africa Tour in 2018.

But now the Chorus is breaking new ground of a different sort: For the very first time in its 99-year history the Walt Disney Company is partnering with a gay chorus to put together "Disney PRIDE in Concert," a show drawing from decades of Disney movie musicals. Boston audiences will be the first to see the result on June 25 and 26, as the BGMC brings Mouse House magic to Symphony Hall in Boston.

Full disclosure: This correspondent has been a long-time member of the BGMC, though currently on hiatus while living abroad. But news of the first-of-its kind show was too exciting not to reach out to the Chorus' Executive Director, Craig Coogan, who graciously chatted with EDGE about the origins of the partnership and the possibilities that it's opened up.

EDGE: It's amazing that this collaboration between the BGMC and Disney is happening. Who initiated it?

Craig Coogan: It was three years ago, the first week of April 2019, that [BGMC music director] Reuben [Reynolds], [executive producer and vocal coach] Bill [Casey], and I were having a conversation, and I was like, "You know, we haven't done anything big in a while. We need to create something. What do you think?" We batted around a few ideas, and we all basically said, "Oh, would it be great if we actually did a Disney show!" We know that in the 45 years that LGBT choruses have been around, nobody's been able to do an all-Disney show. And I said, "Well, let me give it a shot."

I began feeling it out. At the end of the day, it's a very small department, Disney Concerts, that makes these decisions. We got a very polite note that said, "This is an interesting idea; we'll think about it." Then time passed, and it was like, "Well, that was pretty nice, being put off."

And then the coronavirus kicked in, and we had to scramble in that first month just to do everything that everybody else was dealing with. In April of 2020, Reuben and Bill and I were talking, and we said, "What do we want to do when we come back?" We all came back to this idea that a really spectacular way to do what we do, and show everybody who BGMC is, is to do this show. So I said, "All right. I you know I don't take no for an answer."

So I went back and I said, "I want to follow up on this," and I sent a link to our Bernstein performance at Symphony Hall, and I sent them a link to the video "The Istanbul Story," which captures [the BGMC's concert in Istanbul in 2015], and shared with them the impact of that experience.

I said, "This is this is who we are. If you have a chance to look at it, I'd love to have a conversation." The contact wrote back and said, "Let's have a Zoom." I got an invitation for a 15-minute Zoom, and it turned into an hour and a half. [That Zoom call] began a series of ongoing conversations of what this could look like.

I like to think of myself as a big thinker and a strategist, and I'm nothing compared to the folks that I was working with. We took the germ of an idea of doing the simple Disney show to what this has become, which is a first-of-its-kind collaboration where Walt Disney Company, which is now 99 years old, has never in its history had a full-length choral concert of its music. And then, of course, the LGBT element is an additional layer.

Chad [Weirick], our arranger and accompanist, is a gargantuan Disney fan, and is the perfect person to put together the show. Disney said, "Okay, but it's our content, it's our name. We have to approve everything." For 40 years BGMC has sort of done it our way. We've developed a trust where they gave us their content; we've taken it; and they get to approve every moment of it. There's a leap of faith that happened with that, and it has worked out tremendously well.

EDGE: Did Disney have some input into what the show is going to consist of in terms of what songs you're singing, or what the themes might be?

Craig Coogan: They asked for an initial list of what songs we were thinking of, and Chad gave me a list of 96.


That's Chad. And we submitted it, and it became a dialogue, and Chad, Reuben, and Bill pared it down to about half that; some are medleys. Chad would write a section and we'd submit it, and then we'd have a conversation and they'd say, "Well, have you thought about putting this in?" Or, "Maybe this one works a little better than this." I think Chad was ultimately very happy to have the engagement and suggestions — we all agree it's a better show because they were able to provide counsel on what really could work best.

The Boston Gay Men's Chorus
The Boston Gay Men's Chorus  (Source: BGMC/A Priori Photography)

EDGE: The BGMC is known for its big productions, including costuming, choreography, and sometimes there'll be sketches. Will those things also be part of this show?

Craig Coogan: There is not as much as you would expect. The logistics of 250 singers and a 25-piece orchestra on the Symphony Hall stage means very, very little room for anything else. As we started the creative process, early on it was determined that there would not be a dance troupe, and the Chorus itself will certainly have a lot of movement and do the choreography that the Chorus is known for, but that also helped inform the storytelling of the whole show, which is really about the Chorus telling the experience of all the diverse elements of our community. There's a quartet, there's a couple of solos, there's a few costumes, but this is really about the Chorus doing its storytelling.

We will have extravagant lighting. And the real big production element is that we have also been given full access to the Disney video vault, so there will be a big 16 x 9 screen that will have a visual narrative supporting the music throughout the show. We've been very deliberate in our own artistic development, and, with Disney — and our director of video, Michael Willer, is driving this process — we want to make sure that the audience is not coming in and watching a movie the guys are singing to. This is really about the music, and how the visuals are supporting the narrative. If you have a "Little Mermaid" medley, you're gonna see selections from the movie. And then, as you find with a lot of BGMC shows, the way the themes are stitched together is through individual storytelling of the member experience. We have seven themes, and chorus members will be telling their own unique experience through that.

"If you have a 'Little Mermaid' medley, you're gonna see selections from the movie."
"If you have a 'Little Mermaid' medley, you're gonna see selections from the movie."  (Source: Walt Disney Company/AP)

EDGE: The unique experience of the individual as a Disney fan? Or a gay person? Or all of the above?

Craig Coogan: All of the above. One of the stories that you may also be familiar with is how our members Curtis Creekmore and his partner, Michael Barber, met in the Chorus, and as the relationship developed, their song became a Disney song.

EDGE: That's adorable!

Craig Coogan: They're gonna come down, and they're gonna tell their experience. It's about the Chorus, and it's about falling in love.

EDGE: Sadly, the Chorus recently lost Bill Casey, the husband of music director Reuben Reynolds. It's my understanding Bill had worked quite a lot on preparations for this show, as he had for so many of the shows the Chorus has done.

Craig Coogan: Bill's death is devastating, and something that we, individually and the Chorus at large, we're not going to easily recover from. Bill was not just Reuben's husband; he technically had the title executive producer and vocal coach, and he just really was the other side of the coin for Reuben. He had a vision of how the whole show needed to come together, and all the different storytelling elements. He was the thread that brought us all together. He helped curate the stories and identify how things would work. He was an incredibly important part of that development.

Every element of the show was pre-approved by the time he passed. We are able to present the show largely as Bill did it, which is why we are doing it as a tribute to him. We have been incredibly fortunate to bring in Johnny Nichols, who is a well-regarded conductor, as an assistant conductor with Reuben, and he's managing the vocal coaching as well. He has been able to step in and provide that skill set that we've been missing and bring in a perspective that only enhances the show.

EDGE: My understanding is that there'll be camera crews in the auditorium, and they will be making a film out of this concert. Will there be a documentary movie, or a concert film on Disney Plus, or something of that sort, so that audiences in places other than the Boston area can see the show?

Craig Coogan: That is a separate negotiation with a whole separate set of people. What we have agreed to is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we want to capture it. So, we are capturing it on both audio and video with the best quality equipment and team that we can get, and then we will begin a discussion with the appropriate departments at Disney as to what the best, most effective way to distribute that content is — whether it's the full concert, whether it's certain songs.

We have been recording most of the rehearsals, and we are in the process of creating "Making the Magic," a behind-the-scenes telling of how this whole thing has come together. It's our hope that that also will have distribution on the Disney network, but we have to finish it and then have a discussion with them about it.

In terms of other people seeing it, part of the excitement for us is that we're really proud and happy to do it here in Boston. Disney owns the show. The whole idea behind this is to have created a show that can be adapted and used by other choruses. So, there is a SA [soprano/alto] version of the show; there's an SATB [Soprano/Alto/Tenor/Bass] version of the show; and, of course our TTBB [Tenor 1/Tenor 2/ Baritone/Bass] version of the show.

And here we are, a few months after we publicly launched it, the setlist is not publicly known, and [already] there are six choruses around the United States that are in advanced conversations to produce [their own] shows in 2023. We think that that ripple effect of us telling the LGBT experience and having it throughout the land is one of the most powerful and satisfying parts of this.

The Boston Gay Men's Chorus presents "Disney PRIDE in Concert," June 25 & 26 at Symphony Hall in Boston. For tickets and more information, follow this link.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. 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.