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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow to Host Gay Chorus

"Try Out for the Gay Men's Chorus!" read a poster plastered around West Hollywood 20 years ago. Anxious to participate, America's growing gay community rushed to the auditorium, a scene hard to imagine taking place in the Moscow of that period.

But that was 20 years ago and things have changed, even in Moscow.

On Saturday, the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles are bringing their show to Moscow's Tchaikovsky Theater - with a little help from Russian superstar Alla Pugachyova - and the chorus's 95 singers are hoping to show Russia the positive side of gay life.

The highly celebrated chorus will run the musical gamut during their show. Performing the same concert they did for President Clinton a week ago, the chorus will begin with classical, play a little Appalachian, jive with some Jamaican, sway into gospel and end with Broadway and Hollywood.

Being gay is as vital to the chorus's identity as their vocal ability. While planning their trip here, there was some debate over whether to identify themselves as gay in their promotional materials.

"Some people asked us how we felt about that, because they were nervous," artistic director and conductor Jon Bailey explained in a telephone interview Monday.

"Some said, 'No, don't do it.' It was about fifty-fifty. But we have to be who we are. We never apologize for that," Bailey said.

By the mid-'80s, when AIDS had become a frightening reality for several chorus members, they stepped up their activism. Proceeds from this concert will benefit AIDS organizations.

"We've lost 150 people [to AIDS] over the past 20 years," Bailey said. That number includes the former conductor, Jerry Carlson, who died in 1987.

So, the members of the chorus are crossing the Atlantic not only as singers, but also as practiced missionaries preaching tolerance and openness toward gays everywhere. Like their first international tour in 1991, which was the subject of the PBS-televised documentary "Out Loud," this trip will also be filmed. A crew has already visited the cities where the chorus is scheduled to perform: St. Petersburg, Tallinn (Estonia), Helsinki and Berlin.

Bailey illustrated the chorus's message with the story of how, after a recent concert, a man approached him to say that the performance had changed his opinion of homosexuals.

"And that's what we're all about," Bailey said.

Asked about the chorus's attempts to understand the differences in gay communities abroad, he said that several members had already studied Russia's history of homosexuality.

"That's what I'm urging the chorus to do: listen a lot," Bailey said.

What they might hear could be from the other side of the rainbow.

Because Russia is a country that, not long ago, persecuted homosexuals by sending them to Siberia, and only recently allowed gays and lesbians to openly form associations, the chorus's intention is to create dialogue and foster communities - catch phrases in the United States which do not ring as loud here.

But while Moscow is not San Francisco, it is also "not Russia," according to Denis Morozov, a gay journalist who moved to Moscow from the provinces. "Fifty kilometers out [from Moscow]," is quite a different atmosphere," where homosexuality is still in the dark corners of the closet, he said.

This city's gay life has rapidly blossomed since perestroika, with personal advertisements appearing in newspapers, the opening of a gay tourist agency and the appearance of many gay clubs, with Three Monkeys pioneering the way several years ago. But while Moscow may be a haven for the country's gay population, the closet door is hardly off its hinges. "One must wear many different masks," Morozov said. "At home, on the street, at work and in clubs."

He is not surprised that Pugachyova (who Bailey calls "a dear friend of a dear friend") has chosen to collaborate with the chorus, describing her as "the Barbra Streisand to our gay men."

Pugachyova and the chorus will perform a rendition of her hit "Bely Sneg" (White Snow). The singer will then join them in their closing anthem, "We Shall Overcome" - something the chorus, whose 150 official members range in age from 21 to 65, seems already to have done. Their hope is that Russia will achieve the same.

GMCLA performs Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. The Tchaikovsky Theater is located at 4/31 Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. Metro: Mayakovskaya. Tickets cost 80 rubles. For more information or to order tickets, call 299-0378.