It's a familiar story: a talented, naïve young person gets a shot at stardom but is soon disillusioned and damaged by the darker side of the entertainment industry. In Rockstar, at the Trilogy Theatre, this tale is told in the form of a rock musical--or, as its creators prefer, a "concert play"--about Kevin, a pretty-boy front man (in the mold of Rent's Roger) who must decide whether to leave his fellow band mates behind when he is offered a solo contract by a powerhouse record label. Kevin is played by Joe Shane, who also co-wrote the show's book, music and lyrics with Robert Morris, Steven Morris, and Michael Racanelli. TheaterMania caught up with Shane for an interview a few days before Rockstar's first performance.
TM: I read in the production notes that you've been working on Rockstar for some time. When did you start writing it?
JS: In February of 1998. What inspired the show was that, in 1997, I had a band that got a production deal with a major producer. We were pursued by some big labels, but we were with the wrong producer, so we made a record we didn't want to make and it never got released. We learned that just because you have an incredible opportunity in the record industry doesn't necessarily mean things are going to work out the way you planned. We all thought we were on our way to becoming rock stars!
TM: One of the plot points in the show is that the record producer wants you--the lead singer--but not the rest of the band. Where did that idea come from?
JS: That actually happened with another band I was in, earlier on. We've fused several stories together for the show. Another thing in Rockstar that's true is that my mother passed away about three weeks after I lost my production deal in 1997. And I had lost my father when I was 18. All of that is utilized in the show for my character, Kevin.
TM: Have you acted in a show before? Do you have any training as an actor?
JS: I'm a graduate of the High School of the Performing Arts; I was a drama major, not a music major. I went to Hofstra University for about six months, where I also studied theater, and I've studied acting privately. I've done a lot of indie film work, Off-Off-Broadway shows and workshops, although I make my living as a musician. Most of my performing experience has been with rock bands. My band has played in L.A. at the Whiskey and here in New York at the Mercury Lounge. We opened for Lisa Loeb for a little while.
TM: Another one of the plot points in Rockstar is that Kevin plays in wedding bands. Is that true to life?
JS: Yes. I make my living by playing weddings for a company called New York City Swing, which my brother owns. But I also have a rock band called Lucky Me. We play at Arlene Grocery, Baby Jupiter...I'm just a show business slut.
TM: Have you ever auditioned for Rent?
JS: I went in about 11 times. I'm over it! That was part of the reason why we wrote Rockstar: We've seen things like Rent that are called rock musicals, but they're not really rock musicals. Rent, to me, is more theater music than true rock. Hedwig [and the Angry Inch] was the first thing out there that was a real rock musical. We wanted to write a show with music that's radio-accessible, the kind of thing you'd hear on Z-100 or K-ROCK. And we call our show a concert play because all of the music in it comes in real situations; there's no sung dialogue or anything like that.
TM: Was it a challenge for you to approach the story from a new angle?
JS: Some people might say that the plot is clichéd. But, if you watch VH-1 Behind the Music, every band rises and falls at some point--whether it falls because of drugs, alcohol, or whatever. Look at these icons: Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley. That story has been told many times, but we felt like we'd never seen it told in the theater. And, if it was told, it wasn't from a real point of view but with a lot of theatrical license. Rockstar originally had a happy ending: My character came back and rejoined the band. But then we watched Nirvana: Behind the Music, and we changed the ending. We wanted to make the show as true to the rock industry as possible.
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