Stories & Cast Interviews
THE PIANO MEN
Jeff Scott is Elton John. Jeff Brewer is Billy Joel.
The tribute-band industry is a booming one. People flock to the experience for any number of reasons. Perhaps your favorite artist has died — think David Bowie or Michael Jackson. Maybe the tickets to hear the real artist are too expensive. Or perhaps your absolute favorite never tours your neck of the woods.
For the tribute artist, touring the work of others offers positive performing possibilities.
“I had my own recording studio and I played the bar circuit and that was okay,” said Toronto-based Brewer. “Like so many others, I had preconceived notions about tribute artists. But then, the first time I stepped on stage to do my Billy Joel tribute it was in front of 3,000 people. You get to play some pretty big stages.”
Elton John and Billy Joel have collaborated for decades, selling out wherever they went.
Their music continues to tap into the hearts and minds of baby boomers. Brewer knows what the audience wants to hear, so the two play all the hits all the time.
Brewer auditioned for the tribute gig after seeing an ad in Toronto’s NOW magazine. He was told to prepare three songs — Only the Good Die Young, Piano Man and Big Shot.
“I sang the first two lines of Only the Good Die Young and the guy stopped me,” Brewer said. “He said ‘you’ve got the gig.’ Life is like that sometimes.”
That was 15 years ago.
Brewer, a 49-year-old father of two, tours for almost half the year. He’s covered the United States and Canada, performed on cruise ships, in sprawling retirement enclaves in Florida, in Bermuda and Belize.
He’s also played Oyster Bay, Long Island. Billy Joel is a Long Island native and has been in the neighborhood when Brewer is performing. Brewer has only seen Billy Joel perform once, in New York City, and has never met him.
“It’s nerve-wracking to think he could walk in while I’m performing,” Brewer said. “I don’t think he minds (the tribute scene). After all, people are listening to his music.”
Brewer said strong male tenors like Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting were allowed the time by their record labels to develop, back in the day. Not every song had to hit a home run. Fans remained loyal and matured with them.
“I’m a songwriter at heart and Billy Joel is a very skilled songwriter,” Brewer said. “That’s the staying power. It comes down to the quality of the writing.”
Brewer doesn’t think he’ll hang up the tribute mantle any time soon and said his busy schedule is a result of more than his ability to sound and play like Billy Joel.
“There is a difference between being a musician and being an entertainer,” he said. “I’m an entertainer. I love performing for people.”
Excerpts from an interview by email@example.com
The Cookie Lady and The Actor (He paints too!)
Bill Nolte, who plays Gino in our production of MAMBO ITALIANO, created a watercolor painting in his dressing room for his #1 fan, Jeanette. He, finally presented it to her in the WBT LOBBY after the matinee last week. Here is Jeanette Murawski's accounting:
"I'm not particularly lucky when it comes to money or love; but when it comes to the theatre...well, you meet the nicest people ever!!
I first met Bill Nolte in 1776. The show, not the year! Because the show was initially a limited run, I was reluctant to chat with the cast since I knew I'd wind up missing them when the show closed shortly thereafter.
Once word came down the show was extending, I couldn't wait to talk to this wonderful cast. It was during the hiatus between theatres that I happened to run into Bill coming out of another show. I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Hoping I wouldn't appear a stalker, I said, "I don't know who's following who, but I've seen 1776 several times and absolutely love it". His beaming smile assured me I'd be having many more wonderful little chats once the show reopened.
When 1776 reopened in its new home, I became a regular visitor. The show was thrilling every time. The more I saw it, the more I appreciated each individual's performance in this glorious ensemble cast. And my appreciation usually takes the form of baked goods! This cast deserved more than just my applause, they got cookies as well. Lots. Of. Cookies.
But all good things must come to an end, and it was time to say goodbye, though not without a souvenir I'll always treasure. There was a board with a painted clock face (working mechanism behind it) in the green room. Bill had each cast member sign it with their names and the characters they portrayed. He gave it to me on closing weekend. Twenty-two years later, it's still up on my bedroom wall and is the first thing I see each morning.
Happily, another musical, Jane Eyre, soon followed for Bill. More greetings, chats, and hugs - along with cookies. (They don't call me The Cookie Lady for nothing!). Bill was always sweetly appreciative of my support, and I was appreciative of his talents, as well as his tolerance of this enthusiastic (but harmless) theater buff!
Once Jane Eyre ended, Bill landed another terrific role as Franz Liebkind in The Producers. He was the silliest, sweetest, nuttiest Nazi you could ever hope to fall in love with. I again went multiple times.
After the Broadway run, Bill "took the show on the road" on the national tour. I couldn't resist catching the show in Boston (a city I always wanted to visit). Bill pulled out all the stops. Not only did he help arrange for tickets and meet for dinner, but he even played tour guide during the day! Talk about above and beyond the call of duty! I, in turn, was so grateful I promised to send him a batch of cookies at each stop for the duration of the tour. And I did! Even when he signed on for a second year and they changed cities on a weekly basis! I drove myself nuts, but a promise is a promise!
There were several other shows afterward. Basically, I tried to get to anything within commuting distance of New York - from his fabulous one man show at Birdland to a few shows in nearby regional theaters, including twice at the Westchester Broadway. (Tevye in Fiddler and Gino in Mambo Italiano.)
In the interim, Bill and I became Facebook friends and I saw samples of more talents of his - photography and painting. I had just redecorated my kitchen/dining area and was looking for artwork to complete the decor. I saw a photograph of a floral arrangement (Bill is an avid gardener) on his Facebook page and thought it would translate wonderfully into a watercolor painting. So the next time we met, I asked if he would be willing to do a watercolor along those lines. Happily, he accepted the "commission" and I gave him a sample of my wallpaper.
Now, Bill is a busy man and one of the most peripatetic people I've known, so I was content to wait until he had time to create my masterpiece. It was a wait. That large blank space on the wall taunted me for two years until one day during the run of Mambo Italiano (I already had tickets), Bill sent me a sketch of the planned watercolor. I was delighted, but still figured I wouldn't see a final product for at least a few months down the road.
So, imagine my surprise when I showed up and Bill told me the painting was finished, but then said I'd have to wait till after the show for the "unveiling". As much as I enjoyed the show, I was going a little crazy muttering to myself "I want to SEE my painting". Exquisite torture!
Soooo worth it. It's absolutely stunning, and I'm thrilled and proud to be an owner of an original Bill Nolte, who is quite an original himself!"
Joy is a Joy as Maria in MAMBO!
I'm from the Bronx then Teaneck NJ. I’ve been performing professionally since the age of 8! Mom took me to auditions in NYC when I was a child. From a young age, I never thought of anything else! I would sing all the roles in Gypsy, Mame, Hello Dolly, and Guys and Dolls in the living room to the records my parents had.
Joy Hermalyn as MARIA
I had a fantastic singing teacher in addition to my supportive wonderful parents.
I have been lucky enough to do several new musicals in my career. On Broadway, you have 6-8 weeks to hone, change, create, invent a role and a full person in rehearsal before people pay to see you! I had never imagined doing that in 8 days here at WBT where time is of the essence - I am pretty proud of memorizing this beautiful score and highly complicated script in such a short time, and equally proud of our entire company for the teamwork to bring this story to life. By the way, that includes the entire backstage world particularly my dressers, wig department, props, and stage management - without whom there would be no Joy on stage ready & able to do her work!
Speaking for myself again, the collaboration between the writers, composer, lyricist, director and I was thrilling - to have the opportunity to question, clarify and help give birth to a heartfelt, funny show is so gratifying. I have to admit it took me a full 2 weeks to begin to ‘have fun.’
After I got the role of Maria, I watched the movie. I have no opinion really about films made into stage musicals, as long as a story is told and people who pay to see them are moved, entertained or given food for thought.
I sure hope to come back to the WBT stage! It’s a wonderful family here, the audiences are so appreciative, and the show has high production values. Plus, I love the easy commute from NJ!
I have so many favorite shows! From The Sound of Music, Hamilton, Sweeney Todd to Ain’t Misbehavin’ and millions in between.
My dream roles include Rose in Gypsy, Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly, and the title character in Mame. I have only played Mama Rose of that list, so Dolly and Mame are in my future, I hope! Other dream roles I have played were Annie Oakley (Annie Get Your Gun) and Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney Todd)- though I would be blessed to perform any of those roles again! Adding to my ‘want’ list would be Joanne in Company, Sally in Call Me Madam, Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables, Frau Schneider in Cabaret (unless someone doesn’t mind an older Sally!)
When not on stage, I practice yoga, I love gardening, I adore cooking. In times between gigs, my husband eats very well!
I love almost all music - sounds so corny to say! In my heart, I am a classic rock and roll soul-folk girl, so lots of Springsteen, Aretha, Tina Turner, Who, Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Elton, etc. As a total Francophile, I listen to lots of Piaf, Brel, Gauty. My opera singer brain listens to anything Verdi, Puccini and particularly love Renata Tebaldi (I named my daughter after her!), Leontyne Price and Marilyn Horne. And last but not least, I have playlists named ‘Sondheim, Bernstein, R&H’, ‘Broadway songs to learn’, ‘Broadway songs for my students’ and ‘Ethel, Ella, Angela, Judy & Carol.’
Meet Alexandra Amadeo Frost in MAMBO ITALIANO!
I grew up in Coral Springs, Florida. A cute suburb outside of Fort Lauderdale...with my mom, dad, and two younger brothers. My parents were very big on my siblings and I being involved in the arts. So from a very young age, I was exposed to theatre and music. Along with theatre, I was also a competitive figure skater, which is where I think I get a lot of my discipline and drive. I had a super fun childhood and I can’t thank my parents enough for that.
My grandmother was the one who saw that I had a flare for the dramatic. She told my mother to put me in voice lesson at age 7 and the rest is history. My cousin is a professional actor and he definitely inspired me to pursue a career in musical theatre. Growing up and seeing him in plays and musicals had a huge influence on my brothers and I. It’s a family affair, both my younger brothers and I are all pursuing careers professionally in theatre. It’s a really wonderful feeling knowing that you are fully supported by your family and getting to experience it with them as well.
I first heard about the show when my agent sent me in to audition in New York City. Immediately I knew I wanted to be a part of this process. Getting to create a character and relationships is truly incredible and artistically fulfilling. This cast and creative team was such a joy to work with. It was a lot of hard work and focus, especially with the fast rehearsal process... but everyone was so on board and ready to work that the process was really enjoyable.
I had heard about the movie but did not see it until I started rehearsals. I think it’s hysterical and heartfelt. I’m so glad that this has been made into a musical.
It’s my first time working here and I am having a blast! I love how close the theatre is to NYC. Also getting to work on a thrust stage is always a fun challenge.
My dream roles are Bonnie in Bonnie and Clyde, Ella in Cinderella, and Fantine in Les Miserables.
I love going to spin class and Pilates. I'm also a big fan of binging episodes of the Great British Baking Show and eating lots of Half Baked Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I've been listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell lately.... my go-to music is Sara Bareilles, Maggie Rogers, and Dave Mathews Band.