"If you love musical theatre, you need to see the Broadway Boys at the Orlando Cabaret Festival. If you think you don't like musical theatre (and we know who you are), you need to see the Broadway Boys at the Orland Cabaret Festival.

- Elizabeth Maupin
Orlando Sentinel, May '08

 

"I recently booked The Broadway Boys as part of the "Broadway at Birdland" series, and our audience is already clamoring for them to become a regular event! Their fresh and contemporary take on classic theater songs, coupled with their natural onstage charm, made the concert one of the most dazzling and successful in our series. We look forward to their return!"

- Jim Caruso
Producer/Broadway at Birdland

 

"I was so pleased that I got to see the Broadway Boys. I was knocked out by the wealth of talent and the amazing harmonies, and how every boy complimented each other."

- Stephen Mears
Choreographer, Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID, MARY POPPINS

 

"Where else but in New York City can you find a group like The Broadway Boys to turn it out and turn it on whenever you need them? Handsome, talented and starring in the biggest hits on Broadway; and they still have time to come out and perform at Broadway Cares' fundraising events whenever we need them."

- Frank Conway
Associate Director of Development
Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS

 

"When I discovered The Broadway Boys in concert at Birdland I was bowled over: their arrangements allowed me to hear Broadway and popular hits in a fresh new way, their close harmony was transporting, and their connection to the material was magnetic. I simply had to share their work with my audience as soon as I could."

- Steve Stettler
Producing Director
Weston Playhouse, Vermont

 

"A fusion of funk, soul and gospel, the Broadway Boys create an out-of-control energy that make you want to just get up and dance. Their arrangements of Broadway and Pop tunes give way to a myriad of sound, color and grit. An experience you can't afford to miss."

- Amy Birnbaum
Jujamcyn Theaters

 

Broadway Boys fill in the between-show blanks
The 6-man 'super group' aims to shake things up in musical theatre.

Getting a job on Broadway is one thing. Keeping a job on Broadway is another.

And finding ways to keep your creative juices flowing when you're singing backup on Broadway night after night? That's a whole other challenge, and it's what led Jesse Nager to form the Broadway Boys, the six-man "super-group" headlining this weekend at the Orlando Cabaret Festival.

"Doing the same show [on Broadway] every night is very exciting -- for about a month," says Nager, 26, who got a job right out of college in the ensemble of Mamma Mia! "I was looking for new, interesting things to keep me going."

It turned out that the same was true for a bunch of Nager's friends, who were appearing in such shows as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Altar Boyz, Hairspray and Wicked. Their desire to stretch themselves and to find new audiences led to the Broadway Boys, who give musical-theater standards an unexpected spin.

Jim Caruso, who books acts for the New York jazz club Birdland, is the one who calls the Broadway Boys a "super-group" and its members "first-rate singers on the New York theatrical scene." He booked the group into Birdland the first time without having heard a note -- based only on Nager's energy and the names in his cast. Now the Broadway Boys have become regulars there, and they have jammed the club, Caruso says, with theater folk, friends and fans.

He calls their music "hip, distinctive take[s] on American standards and theater songs."

To artistic-director Nager and his fellow Boys, the goal is to present musical-theater material in ways audiences have never heard it. Their biggest YouTube hit, he says, is a gentle rendition of Wicked's "Defying Gravity" sung mostly to acoustic guitar.

"People either love it or hate it -- but they say, 'I actually never listened to the lyric before.'

"There's a new generation who's used to hip-hop and funk and gospel. My 16-year-old sister would never put in a CD of [the 1947 Broadway classic] Finian's Rainbow, but she came away from our last concert saying, 'Oh my God, I love that arrangement of 'Old Devil Moon.' "

They do what Nager calls a "funk gospel arrangement" of "Lullaby of Broadway," and their repertoire stretches from "Imagine" to "Bop 'til You Drop" to -- believe it or not -- Mary Poppins' "Feed the Birds."

Nager was appearing in Broadway's Mary Poppins last fall when he decided to leave the show and concentrate on the Broadway Boys. Since then their collective career has taken off: They've performed in other high-profile New York clubs, done lucrative corporate gigs and been booked into regional theaters in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Vermont.

The roster of Boys has increased to about 20 because, as Nager says, "You never know who's going to get a job." One of the six singers lined up for Orlando may have to be replaced because of rehearsals for an upcoming Broadway show, Nager said last week. And, of course, all Broadway shows eventually close.

"One of our goals is to create opportunities for my amazingly talented friends who are not currently in shows. One week they're starring, and the next week they're in coat check.

"What's most exciting is getting the music out to a new audience. I'm always thinking how can I push myself further as a musician, a singer and an actor. It keeps me on my toes."

- Elizabeth Maupin
Sentinel Theater Critic
May 2, 2008

 

THE BROADWAY BOYS: LULLABY OF BROADWAY
PS Classics

Think high-voiced harmonies. Think melisma. Think energy. This Lullaby of Broadway is rarely lullaby and not traditional Broadway brass and balladeering, but more contemporary stylings. Variously, there are gobs of gospel, rushes of rock, and songs swathed in soul. Sometimes, within a number, there's a shift in musical genre, tone or energy. Expect the unexpected. The Broadway Boys often put the spotlight on sounds and style more than the songs' potential for storytelling or theatrical characterization that recalls the way the numbers were done in the musicals from whence they come. Oh, there's drama, but it's more in the intensity of the soaring singing and how the harmonies hit the earlus the element of surprise from the unconventional re-inventing of material.

Purists may run for the hills, but the Boys' hills are alive with the sound of music rethought with mountains of talent and rolling harmonies; those looking for new approaches rather than the same old/same old will find excitement. Most of the songs prove to be flexible enough to shine with these new musical coats of paint, usually surviving the non-traditional casting to feel refreshed rather than burdened by a globbed-on gimmick to be different just to be different. The core emotion of the lyrics generally comes through and feels respected even if somewhat upstaged by vocal pyrotechnics or the ping and zing of high voices in high gear. Yes, sometimes it seems to be all about the sound rather than substance, contemporizing or just showy, shiny, wailing voices, but many risks pay off entertainingly. Being aurally dazzled has its rewards.

All songs have been heard in Broadway productions, though not all originated in stage shows. The earliest-written choice, the 1935 title tune, came from the silver screen as did a couple from the Disney dynasty still enjoying a stay on the Great White Way, Mary Poppins's "Feed the Birds" and The Lion King's "Shadowland." From the pop world leading to jukebox bio-musicals is "Imagine," from short-lived Lennon focusing on John Lennon, with a bit of the Beatles song "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" woven in. The other tracks among the 14 are those written for stage musicals, and it's a very varied songbag.

Many cuts feature one or two of the fellows getting prominent solo leads, with several of the others as a very present but never bland chorus. The group's founder/leader/arranger, Jesse Nager, is an intense dynamo high voice, taking the album's only 100% solo number, the ballad (by the end, a ballad with adrenalin and Red Bull) "Mama, a Rainbow" from Minnie's Boys. The album's one duet is him with the personality-plus Danny Calvert on a combo of those two Annie anthems of hope, "Maybe" and "Tomorrow," ending in a divo duet (not a duel) with lots of vocal embellishments and embroidery and more of the cooing school than the brash belt. After track after track in this torrent of tenors, one might get a pang for a deep baritone's tone, but instead, on the next-to-last track, Big River's "Leavin's Not the Only Way to Go," we get a female guest star. It's Natalie Weiss, with an effective, emotional and calibrated vocal performance with two members of the group joining her: Peter Matthew Smith and Maurice Murphy (the latter, showy but silky and skillful, gets more chances than most to step out in front).

One welcome new treatment is with Wicked's "Defying Gravity," usually an all-stops-out showcase for the leather-lunged and a parade of determination and self-empowerment. Surprise! Though these men could belt it powerfully 'til the bricks in the yellow brick road came loose, this group number takes a gentle and pretty approach, even thoughtful, for quite a while until they decide to kick it into gear. I wish they'd stayed the life-in-the-slow-lane course rather than going for a build: it's a rewarding approach the way they begin. Vocal powerhouse Marty Thomas, a Wicked veteran himself, makes one appearance, to lead a strong, focused Hair medley of "Aquarius" and "Let the Sun Shine In." And speaking of old shows revived in this past season, I would have liked to hear more of the exciting-voiced Lucas Steele, who I think really digs into material, and makes the most of an opportunity when he shares solo duties leading "Old Devil Moon" from Finian's Rainbow with Landon Beard.

My moments of lingering reluctance to give in come from times when I feel buried in melisma overdose, unsettled by a sudden jarring electric guitar appearance midway during a song, or when the instrumental quartet led by Justin Paul (keyboards/some additional arrangements) push things "over the top" for effect. A change of pace that's a refreshing breeze for some may be Broadway identify theft for others. Show tune lovers may disagree, but no one can accuse these Broadway Boys, with their golden tones, of bringing clones of the original cast album experiences.



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