They Will, They Will Rock You
Broadway performers rock, both live and on CD, with a little help from Kurt Deutsch and Sh-K-Boom.
The point is that pop/rock and musical theater can coexist. And Deutsch is working to aid that coexistence, having founded a record label that allows Broadway stars to be heard in repertoire other than that for which they're best known. What gave him the idea? "I had all these friends who wrote their own music," Deutsch explains, "but the only kind of record deals they were offered were Broadway show tunes." One of those friends was Deutsch's wife, Sherie René Scott. Most people know her as Amneris in Aida, but Scott's Sh-K-Boom album includes covers of songs by Randy Newman and Pete Townshend.
The Sh-K-Boom circle of artists also embraces Adam Pascal and Alice Ripley, who write and perform their own music. Ripley was in the original Broadway casts of Tommy and Side Show, and is currently playing Janet in Rocky Horror. Pascal, of course, created the roles of Roger in Rent and Radames in Elton John's Aida. But both of these artists toss their impressive theater credentials aside when onstage with their bands. Says Ripley, "I'm not a musical theater artist pretending to be a rock singer, or dreaming of being a rock singer. My music is the real thing."
Unfortunately, some Broadway performers who pursue other forms of musical expression aren't so successful. In a TheaterMania interview last year, Pascal complained that, "With some actors, it's not about this burning desire to make music; it's about, 'I just want to be a bigger star than I already am.' " Kurt Deutsch tries to weed out such divas. "When you work with an artist," he says, "you try to find out what they want to say and why they want to say it. Alice and Adam, I feel, have stories to tell." So do critics: The All Music Guide gave Ripley's album, Everything's Fine, a four-star rating, while the New York Times described Pascal's voice on his Model Prisoner CD as "plaintive and powerful, melting and earthy."
Their talent in the rock arena should really come as no surprise; both of these artists were working musicians long before signing with Sh-K-Boom. Pascal belonged to a hard rock band called Mute, which broke up shortly before his audition for Rent, and Ripley says that she literally grew up on music. "If I was a member of the Carly Simon family," she quips, "I would have been writing songs since I was a kid." In fact, she has been involved in creating music almost that long. More recently, she worked with Michael Cerveris in Lame--a band she describes as "David Bowie meets The Smashing Pumpkins"--while both were in Tommy. "We played a couple of my songs with Lame," Ripley says, "but we mostly played Michael's music." That band, she points out, had more of a "male" sound, whereas hers is distinctly "feminine."
More to the point, her music is distinctly her own. As Kurt Deutsch sees it, "All of the tracks on her album reflect a time of her life, her time in the Midwest as a child of a divorce with 11 brothers and sisters." This was clear to those who attended Ripley's performance last Thursday in The Boom Room, Sh-K-Boom's new performance space, located in The Cutting Room on West 24th Street. Among the songs in her set was a driving, blues-rock piece in which she confessed to envying "my fucking brother!" The audience happily played voyeur as her passionate feelings resounded. Pascal's material draws from various sources: The lyrics of his song "Ordinary Boy" ("I'm not such an ordinary boy / I spent all night just listening to your voice") conjure the image of him reading a letter from an obsessed fan, or perhaps of a younger Adam himself writing to an idol.
Will the pool of talented musicians who also happen to be Broadway stars ever dry up? The growing number of Sh-K-Boom artists would indicate not. Who might be the next acquisition? "I'm working with Laura Benanti, who's been writing her own stuff, and also Patrick Wilson," Deutsch reveals. What will their sounds be like? We'll just have to wait and see--and hear. As for Deutsch's own personal favorites, he lists Randy Newman, Bruce Springsteen, Gavin McGraw, the Dave Matthews Band, and David Yazbek, as well as jazz and world music. "I'm eclectic," he admits. And he definitely appreciates musical theater people who want to make themselves heard in an entirely different way.