Broadway Boys bring new twist to classics
Three members of The Broadway Boys know Westport like the back of their hands. They grew up here and graduated from Staples High School, though in different years.
Justin Paul, musical director and accompanist, Dan Asher, bassist, and Drew McKeon, drummer, have known one another for some time. Asher and McKeon were older than Paul, now 24, but Paul used to sneak into a certain area restaurant to play piano or sing with them during their regular gig.
Times have changed. The two oldest of the trio are now taking direction from Paul. Paul became musical director of The Broadway Boys in winter 2007 and soon revamped the musical line-up, bringing in Asher, McKeon and guitarist Ryan Parrino, a Stamford native.
Paul can do it all. He sings. He plays piano. He writes plays. In fact, a play he wrote in college -- Edges -- was bought by a licensing company and is now performed as far away as London and Australia. Paul is currently conducting an off-Broadway show called Altar Boyz. In addition, Paul, along with Benj Pasek, his writing partner, wrote a show that was commissioned by the Lincoln Center. Though Paul aspires to create a Broadway musical, he is passionate about his work with The Broadway Boys band, which features a rotating cast of singers. If one guy gets an acting job and can't make the gigs, that's OK because there are about two dozen others who know the material and can fill in.
Through their vocal prowess and interesting arrangements, The Broadway Boys add elements of pop, funk, gospel, jazz and folk to show tunes and classic pop songs. Performing in groups of six, the Boys are able to explore harmonies rarely presented by Broadway shows. The group hopes to introduce audiences outside the theater community to genres of music they may not be familiar with by fusing Broadway music and pop styles, as well as present the Broadway community and its audiences with new arrangements of songs they are familiar with.
The group gets many rave reviews but there are times the feedback is mixed, usually when performing in front of an older crowd that doesn't like change. Most of the time, however, the group wins over its audiences, said Asher. The Broadway Boys recently wrapped up a number of performances in Georgia and are currently touring in Florida.
"This group is the one group that gives me the opportunity to play with the freedom that I like to play with and in the style that I like to play in," said Paul, the son of a minister. "I grew up with church music, pop music, but I'm also a theater kid."
Paul said the audiences typically don't mind the twists put on the show tunes "as long as we stay true to the melodies."
The Broadway Boys perform stage hits as well as lesser known songs.
"We bring life back to some songs that may have been forgotten," said Paul.
The Broadway Boys last performed in Westport in 2008, but anyone who was at that gig shouldn't expect the same show. There will be "almost all new faces" for the Dec. 20 event. The rotating line-up, said Paul, keeps things fresh.
Paul undoubtedly loves writing plays and doing musical direction for plays but there's a certain thrill he gets performing with a live band that can't compare to his theater work.
"A play is fulfilling but I sit in the audience and watch it along with them," said Paul. "A concert is spontaneous and different every time."
McKeon, who has played in a number of rock and pop bands over the years, said playing in The Broadway Boys was a "bit of a change of pace for me." With the rock and pop bands, McKeon, as the drummer, was in charge of the pacing and so forth. With The Broadway Boys, he takes Paul's lead.
"He used to look up to us, now we're looking up to him," said McKeon, who admires Paul's work ethic and the opportunities he's created for himself.
Asher, who now lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, N.Y., manages to pay his bills through The Broadway Boys gigs and teaching bass guitar two days a week. He's avoided a full-time job but admits being a musician -- with occasional dry spells as far as gigs -- can be a little scary sometimes.
To say he's a resident of the Bronx might not be entirely accurate.
"I don't do much there except sleep," said Asher.
The Broadway Boys is a group unlike any group Asher had been a part of before.
"There's so many varieties of music involved. It really stays fresh," he said. "The singers are so energetic and enthusiastic about what they're doing that anybody in the group, whether singing or playing, just can't help but feed off the energy the vocalists put into every show."
Asked to recall his greatest experience with the band, Asher said it was shows in Orlando last year and the year before at the Mad Cow Theatre.
"We played for an ideal audience, in a small theater, where people were young enough to appreciate the modern twists and old enough to know the songs we were playing."
Tickets for the Dec. 20 performance at the Westport Country Playhouse are $35. For more information or ticket purchases, call the box office at (203) 227-4177 or toll free at (888) 927-7529, or visit Powers Court, off Route 1, Westport. Tickets may also be purchased online at www.westportplayhouse.org