Why Michigan’s PRISM Chorus Chose Dolly, Sufjan and 'Hairspray' for Its ‘Hits the Road’ Show

The LGBTQ+ group brings a map of songs to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts on May 31

Madeleine Aitken

PRISM Chorus is hitting the road, and they’ve got their playlist all mapped out. 

The choir will perform “PRISM Hits the Road: A Musical Road Trip Across the Nation!” at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts on May 31 (tickets are available here and at the MCPA Box Office).

The show is inspired by PRISM’s own upcoming travel, as they trek to Minneapolis this summer to attend and perform at the GALA Choruses Festival, a quadrennial festival that brings together LGBTQ+ choruses for five days in July — the largest LGBTQ+ choral event in the world. Or, as board member at large Bill LeAnnais calls it, “the Olympics of queer choirs.”

PRISM first assembled in 2016, when a small group of friends decided to form an a cappella group in Detroit, and eight years later, it’s become a full-blown chorus. PRISM Chorus is now a volunteer, non-profit performing arts organization that aims to carve out a space in the performing arts for LGBTQ+ men and allies. 

“One really cool thing about PRISM, and something that makes it unique, is that we give our members a voice in what we perform,” LeAnnais said. “Each season, we survey the group and ask them what themes and music they would like to see highlighted in future concerts. Then, as a programming team, we think about what's going on in our world and how we want PRISM to represent [that].” 

“‘PRISM Hits the Road’ will be all about road-tripping across the U.S., from east to west, and the diversity of music our country offers: from Broadway, jazz, soul to country, indie and pop,” LeAnnais told Pride Source. Songs, he said, will represent “specific places as well as the sentiments of exploring, making memories and enjoying the journey.” 

The broad theme, LeAnnais noted, allows PRISM to highlight different artists and continue to pursue its goals of spotlighting queer artists and themes.  “While the country may be more divided than ever, we as an organization have always seen music as one of the best ways to bring people together,” LeAnnais said.

The lineup includes a mix of classic show tunes, pop hits and, in true PRISM style, a few surprises:

‘Good Morning Baltimore’ 
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, from "Hairspray"

“Hairspray” opens with the irresistibly bubbly “Good Morning Baltimore,” and it’ll also kick off the “Hits the Road” show. In the beloved musical, the song takes the audience through Tracy Turnblad’s journey to school, as she hitches a ride on a garbage truck when she misses her school bus. Artistic Director Darin DeWeese called it an “amazing opener to the show,” as its upbeat, optimistic energy will make for a rollicking entrance.

In the musical, “Good Morning Baltimore” uses the song to establish Tracy’s ability to understand and empathize with all kinds of people, a message that falls directly in line with PRISM Chorus’ aim to provide an inclusive and affirming space for LGBTQ+ folks and allies. In “Hits the Road,” it will be performed with “our soloist in full drag and her backup dancers to set the scene,” DeWeese said. 

‘NYC Medley’
Barry Manilow

From Baltimore, “Hits the Road” heads next to New York City with Barry Manilow’s “NYC Medley.” Manilow, who came out publicly in 2017 at the age of 73 — noting that he waited to come out of fear for his career, even though he had been romantically involved with his manager and husband Garry Kief for many years prior — released his album “This is My Town: Songs of New York” the same year, featuring “NYC Medley.”

With pieces of “New York State of Mind” by Billy Joel and Tony Bennett, “Manhattan” by Ella Fitzgerald and “New York, New York” by Leonard Bernstein from the 1944 musical “On the Town,” the song will be performed by four “immensely talented soloists…before the curtain opens to the full chorus singing ‘New York, New York,’” DeWeese said.

PRISM during their 2023 "Disco Fever" concert. Photo: Preppyman Photography

Sufjan Stevens

“Hits the Road” enters the Midwest with “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, a Detroit native. “It is always important to have queer artists represented in our concerts,” DeWeese said of Stevens. “Chicago” is a perfect road song: Stevens sings about getting in a van and driving to Chicago and to New York, sleeping in parking lots and admitting his mistakes, inspired by his experiences driving to Chicago when he was in school at Hope College in Holland to get away to the city and see shows. His album “Illinois,” which “Chicago” is from, has also inspired other forms of art: it’s the basis for a new Broadway musical called “Illinoise” by director and choreographer Justin Peck and playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury.

‘Kansas City’
Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers, from "Oklahoma!"

From the classic “Oklahoma!” comes “Kansas City,” which PRISM’s small auditioned ensemble, Men of Note, will perform in “an over-the-top jazzy version,” DeWeese said. A poppy track from the middle of the musical, “Kansas City,” will pick up the pace after “Chicago,” one of the gentler and more wistful of the songs on PRISM’s setlist.

‘Travelin’ Thru’
Dolly Parton

“Travelin’ Thru” was chosen for its place in the 2005 movie “Transamerica,” about a transgender woman who has to rethink her past when she finds out she has a 17-year-old son. Written by Dolly Parton for the movie, it earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song in 2006, an award she was nominated for back in 1981 for her enduring classic “9 to 5.” The rest of the set includes what DeWeese called “general traveling music”: songs like “Go West” by Village People and popularized by a Pet Shop Boys version, “Life Is a Highway” by Rascal Flatts and “Roam” by the B-52’s.