In the 'Spotlight' - Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band celebrates animation, video games

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday May 14, 2024
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Artistic Director Pete Nowlen conducts the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. (photo: John Su)
Artistic Director Pete Nowlen conducts the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. (photo: John Su)

Each year the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band produces "Spotlight," the band's annual gala and fundraiser. This year's event will take place on May 18 at the historic Grand Theater on Mission Street. The concert will focus on music from animated films, as well as anime (Japanese animation) and video games.

Musical selections will include pieces from "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away," plus Disney classics such as "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast," and "The Little Mermaid." Representing the world of video games will be "Super Mario Brothers," among other pieces. The evening will be hosted by Donna Sachet and lesbian cabaret singer Leanne Borghesi.

As always, the band will be led by artistic director Pete Nowlen, who, in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, said that animation, anime and video games have a wide following across diverse communities, including the LGBTQ community. According to Nowlen, a recent report from GLAAD found that 19 percent of heavy gamers, those that spend more than ten hours a week playing, identify as LGBTQ.

"Video games play a key role for young people and their understanding of gender identity," Nowlen said. "Some games allow the player to make an avatar and explore what it's like to try on a different gender for a little while. These games are some of the best for queer people, since they aren't required to play as 'the same gritty dude protagonist' in many games."

Members of the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band at the 2023 event. (courtesy photo)  

Family film faves
We asked Nowlen if the concert might appeal to audiences beyond the LGBT community, and if parents might be able to bring their kids to see it.

"While the event is a gala fundraiser aimed at adults, and there will be a bar offering alcoholic beverages, we recognize how popular many of the soundtracks we're playing are with younger audiences," he said. "Families with older children and teens will have a great time at "Spotlight" reliving some favorite memories from across generations."

LGBT people will be well-represented during the evening's musical selections. The concert includes the main theme from the video game "Kingdom Hearts," which is sung by one of the first Japanese media figures to come out as non-binary.

Disney selections such as "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid" feature the work of LGBT identified lyricist Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS at age 40 in 1991. Ashman was credited with creating the Disney Renaissance of the 1980s and '90s. He won two Academy Awards for the songs "Under the Sea" and "Beauty and the Beast."

"The latter Oscar was accepted posthumously by Ashman's long-time partner Bill Lauch," said Nowlen. "In his acceptance speech, he said, 'This is the first Academy Award given to someone we've lost to AIDS."

Since the musical selections are from films and video games, Nowlen said that film clips will be included during the concert.

A rousing sing-along with the Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band at the 2023 event. (courtesy photo)  

"Several numbers will be performed alongside short films and video," he said. "And every piece will have video and graphical components shown on the state-of-the-art recently renovated projection screen at the Grand Theater, making the show a thrilling multimedia experience."

In addition to acting as emcees for the concert, Sachet and Borghesi will also be singing some of the Disney movie tunes and leading the audience in sing-alongs. They will also be supporting the band with its fundraising efforts through several live auctions, which will help the band continue with its mission.

"In addition to Donna and Leanne, we're excited to also feature Ken Dulay, a fantastic countertenor vocalist who will help bring several numbers to life," Nowlen said. "Dulay will be a new voice to Bay Area audiences. He's in his senior year at California State University Sacramento, with a double major in vocal performance and music education. Ken performs with groups in the Sacramento area including Camerata California, the Sacramento Choral Society and Orchestra, and with Music in the Mountains. "Spotlight 2024" will be his debut performance in San Francisco."

Nowlen hopes that the community will come out in force to support the band's work.

"This is one of the band's most important fundraisers of the year," he said. "Coming just before a very busy Pride month, this show provides important revenue the Official Band of San Francisco needs to continue providing its music and energy to dozens of events each year."

San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band Presents 'Spotlight on Animation and Video Games,' May 18, 7pm, Grand Theater, 2665 Mission Street, $55 (single)-$400 (table)

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