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MUSIC : In Celebration of Being Alive : Gay Men's Chorus of L.A. Will Perform Sondheim at Benefit

July 15, 1993|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

When people think of the transforming power of AIDS, they think primarily of the transformation from life to death. But Jon Bailey, artistic director of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, says AIDS can transform in other ways as well.

For starters, it can transform the meanings of songs.

Take the Stephen Sondheim song "Being Alive." "That's a real plea," said Bailey, whose group brings a program titled "Sondheim!" to the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Saturday.

In the context of the show "Company," the song was "kind of '80s and self-absorbed--the co-dependent national anthem," he said. "But for gay men (surrounded by) a lot of death, it becomes a cry for help, for love, for embracing one another."

Most of the concert will celebrate the music of composer-lyricist Sondheim, with selections from musicals including "Into the Woods," "Sunday in the Park With George" and "A Little Night Music," among others. But because this marks the first Orange County appearance of the chorus, works ranging from Russian liturgical music to American folk music and spirituals will also be performed to show its diversity.

The event will benefit the Elections Committee of the County of Orange, a gay, lesbian and feminist political action committee dedicated to ending discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.

The Gay Men's Chorus has lost 85 members to AIDS and is losing eight to 10 more each year. Yet even in the face of such devastation, Bailey said, the crisis has had a positive impact.

"The chorus gets stronger both in spite of the disease and because of it," he said. "People are beating the doors to get in. Last year I auditioned 135 and could only take 30 or 40.

"It's hard to imagine the day when the AIDS crisis is over, but I think that one of the side effects will be similar to those who have been through the Holocaust. They will come through stronger. They will know better who they are."

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