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April 20, 2006

Choral group's comedy done to the nines

The Seattle Times

There's lots to spoof when you're a nine-man vocal-comedy ensemble. Santa's reindeer. The Supreme Court. A baseball team. "There are a lot of groups of nine, and I'm sure there are some we haven't yet thought of," said Eric Lane Barnes, the mastermind behind Captain Smartypants.

Known as the Pants for short, the Seattle Men's Chorus ensemble will return to Snohomish County for shows Friday at Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church and Saturday at the Everett Theatre. The group, which sings music as varied as swing and Motown, plans to perform songs from previous recordings and some new material. "UnderCover," the Pants' latest recording, features well-known cover songs such as Petula Clark's "Downtown" and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." Also Friday and Saturday, look for previews of the Pants' June show, "Trousers of Terror," their spoof of the horror-film genre. "We do a cannibalistic approach to Barbra Streisand's 'People,' " Barnes said. "We do Jan and Marcia Brady as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jan?,' and 'Thank God It's Friday the 13th.' "

With baritones, bass-baritones and tenors in the group, "sometimes we're a unit of nine guys, but about half the time the guys are performing as individuals," Barnes said. "What I like is throwing new thoughts at Smartypants. As of yet, we haven't found anything we can't do."

Tom Carlisle, who joined the Pants last year, had been a member of Seattle Men's Chorus on and off since 1982. To be accepted into one of the largest choral groups of its kind in the U.S. "was a huge milestone," he said. "The chorus became my surrogate family, and that's true with a lot of guys that join," Carlisle said. "It not only provides a musical outlet, it provides a spiritual, emotional and social outlet."

Founded in 1979, the 250-member group is considered one of the largest gay men's choruses in the world. With the 150-member Seattle Women's Chorus, it's also the largest choral organization in the state. "Our mission is to entertain, enlighten, unify and heal our audience and members, using the power of words and music to recognize the value of gay and straight people and their relationships," goes the stated credo.

In searching out tolerance and diversity, the men's chorus has become known for its American Sign Language version of "Silent Night" and the recent "Not in Our Town." The latter song tells the true story of a newspaper in Billings, Mont., that printed paper menorahs for townspeople to put in their windows after anti-Semitic attacks rocked the city in 1993.

Carlisle made his stage debut at age 10 in Benjamin Britten's opera "The Little Sweep" in 1968 at Seattle Center. He spent 20 years as a choir director in Seattle, Los Angeles and Key West, Fla., and in the 1980s joined the Emerald City Volunteers. That group became the prototype for Captain Smartypants, which was formed in 2000. "I do get stage fright, but I come alive on the stage," Carlisle said. "Captain Smartypants has been a great avenue to get back. I got burned out as a choir director, so now it's great to be directed and to perform again."

Barnes spent 15 years in Chicago working in musical theater, directing and writing shows, and with ensembles for the Windy City Gay Chorus. Dennis Coleman, the artistic director of the Seattle Men's Chorus, hired him to run Captain Smartypants in January 2000. In addition to his ensemble duties, Barnes is the assistant artistic director for Flying House Productions, the umbrella organization for the Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus.

After a few tries at a name, Barnes fixed on Captain Smartypants, based on the childhood taunt, which has inevitably provoked laughs. "We do some serious things, but we're primarily about the comedy and the theater," Barnes said. "My style is to get the audience on your side with comedy. We don't do anything serious in the show until we've got the audience laughing for a long time."

Posted by acapnews at April 20, 2006 12:04 AM