Allen René Louis and Michael McElroy on Broadway Inspirational Voices' Past, Present, Future

Special Features   Allen René Louis and Michael McElroy on Broadway Inspirational Voices' Past, Present, Future
 
Ahead of a Juneteenth concert, the incoming and outgoing artistic directors discuss joy out of struggle and a time of transition for the choir.
Allen René Louis and Michael McElroy
Allen René Louis and Michael McElroy

Broadway Inspirational Voices, Broadway’s Tony-honored gospel choir, will perform two Broadway Our Way concerts on NYC’s newest public park, Little Island, June 19 and 20. It is the first time the choir will sing together since its gala concert in March 2020, prior to the coronavirus shutdown. It is also the first large concert at Little Island, planned to commemorate Juneteenth. It will also be Artistic Director Michael McElroy’s last concert before passing the baton to incoming leader Allen René Louis.

“It’s a lot of firsts and lasts,” says McElroy.

In addition to BIV, the concerts will feature guest appearances from current Tony nominee Daniel J. Watts (Tina), Little Island Artist-in Residence Ayodele Casel, Tony winner Phylicia Rashad (Broadway's upcoming Skeleton Key), Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles (Chicago), Tony nominee Norm Lewis (The Phantom of the Opera), and Broadway dancer Garen Scribner (An American in Paris). Schele Williams, co-chair of the BIV board, directs.

The Broadway Inspirational Voices choir
The Broadway Inspirational Voices choir Drake Takes Photography

The concert programs have been created to welcome audiences back, take them on a journey of remembrance, and invite them to boldly step into a new tomorrow.

McElroy and Louis do not shy from addressing the pain of difficult times. Perhaps because they both believe in the healing power of music. McElroy formed the choir in 1994, in response to the AIDS epidemic, to provide comfort and joy to a community devastated by loss. Now, 27 years later, Louis will continue the mission of BIV in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s through these times and through these hardships that creativity is birthed,” Louis says.

Centering the concerts around a moment of reawakening, McElroy is drawing connections between the past—the formal end of enslavement and the hope of a better life—and the present—emerging from pandemic after a year of social reckoning.

Louis will continue that ethos: “A time like this forces us to look at ourselves. It forces us to look at our community. There is a lot of awakening that has been happening in our community and in our industry and in our world.” He adds, “Even this concert, the inspiration that came from the story that we’re going to be telling …it all comes from a place of seeking, from a place of hurt, of distress, but it also reminds us of the hope and the joy that awaits.”

“Life exists in these two opposing spaces. If we don’t know what it’s like to struggle, we don’t know when the joy is there,” adds McElroy. “That’s what BIV has always centered on, coming out of the AIDS epidemic and wanting to do something in that moment, and now we have that same responsibility, gift, ability to that same thing coming out of this pandemic.”

Allen René Louis and the Broadway Inspirational Voices
Allen René Louis and the Broadway Inspirational Voices Joseph Marzullo/MediaPunch

Not that the pandemic stopped the choir from creating. They made over 40 videos for various virtual concerts and galas and produced their own streaming holiday show, allowing for an expanded international audience that had previously not had that access to BIV. It was important that the music get out there. In BIV’s words: hope, inspire, transform.

This time of transition for the world is also a time of transition for the choir. McElroy will be stepping away as artistic director and taking on a new role as the chair of the department of musical theatre at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. He hand-picked Louis to take over.

Louis first encountered BIV as an eighth grader and was immediately hooked when he heard his two obsessions—musical theatre and gospel music---collide. It would be a few more years before he would sit crying in the balcony at a concert and ask a friend in the choir to connect him with McElroy. Within a few months, he had an invitation to join the choir.

Fast forward another year or so, and McElroy is sitting at Louis’ concert at Green Room 42, hearing his original music and arrangements. “Literally a light bulb went off in my head,” says McElroy. Louis was the person to take over. McElroy had led the choir for 25 years and was already thinking of moving on, not only for himself, but for BIV.

Louis’ first concert as artistic director will be the 2021 holiday show, but both artists promise some secret surprises for the Juneteenth program.

“I’m interested to see what Allen’s vision is. And inspired to see what BIV 2.0 will be,” says McElroy.

The Little Island Broadway Our Way concert will be available to stream on June 30. For more information, visit BroadwayInspirationalVoices.org.

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