Live in YOUR Living Room
I got in on the future of live entertainment. Actually, the present day.
In the age of COVID-19, there are now more live performances streaming through the internet, and seeking the best method to bring in audience reactions.
The Doo Wop Project is an ongoing revue, featuring five veteran singers from jukebox musicals, mainly “Jersey Boys” and “Motown: The Musical.” They’ve been touring for five years, opening for the likes of Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi and Jay Leno, and doing a “Symphonic Pops” with orchestras across the country.
As a doo wop fan, I was happy to get a look at the musical performance. The family was busy watching other stuff on the main TV, so I didn’t have the chance the try to “throw” the video to the big screen. I brought it to the home computer. Only as I’m writing this did I find that there is a “Stellar Tickets” app, and a Roku channel.
The show itself had the group on a stage at Schubert Studios, part of Manhattan’s Schubert Theatre, with no live audience apparent. The singers were Charl Brown (“Motown: The Musical”), Dwayne Cooper (“Smokey Joe’s Café”), John Michael Dias (“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”), Russell Fischer (“Jersey Boys”), and Dominic Nolfi (“Jersey Boys”). Musical Director Sonny Paladino (“Pippin”) played keyboards; and other backing musicians were Dave Mann on sax, Joe Bergamini on drums, and Julia Adamy on bass guitar.
The performance seemed like watching a stage rehearsal, due to the lack of audience and their reactions. Instead, we relied on a stream of “applause” and “smiley” emojis, plus a flow of comments in the chat section. It took the group themselves a little time to adjust to the new “normal,” as a few of them squinted into an off-screen monitor to try and read reactions. The quintet also involved the audience by having them vote on which of two Four Seasons songs they should cover. Spoiler alert—they ended up doing both of them in a medley.
The whole show ran just under 60 minutes. Whether it was truncated because of the experimental nature of the streaming show, I’m not sure. But the performers were on stage for the whole show, Most live acts usually get a break in that period, but this format may not have made it possible.
Among the songs performed were several doo wop re-imaginings of more modern popular songs. Let’s just mention Michael Jackson, Jason Mraz, Garth Brooks, and even Amy Winehouse.
It was easy to see that the members of the group had some personal favorites. Not just the Four Seasons, either. Since Mr. Borwn sang as Smokey Robinson in “Motown: The Musical,” he of course got to do a Miracles song; which laid clear that band’s roots in vocal harmony. Mr. Cooper mentioned that part of his love for doo wop may have been owed to the fact that his mother told him she once dated one of the Drifters. Well, I joke that there were about 50 Drifters over the years. Try to find a woman of a certain age who didn’t date one.
But it was nice to hear the group’s occasional shout-outs between songs to the nature of 50s harmony groups, many of whom charted on the Pop and R&B charts without regard to the color of the singers. They pointed out, before singing “Come Go With Me,” that the original artists, the Del-Vikings, were among the first integrated groups to make it big, in 1957. But they also an obscure number, “Oh, Rose Marie,” by the Fascinators, who were also an integrated group, from Brooklyn. This song, though, failed to get much action on its 1959 release, but is now a doo wop “crate digger’s” standard.
To add to the experience, the show also has a Zoom meeting so audience member could be seen dancing along to the music. The Zoom link was posted in the Chat room, which kept scrolling by so fast, it was hard to catch and copy it. But I finally got the link open, and got a few people dancing quite happily, of all ages and colors. A few more just sitting and nodding in time. We are now at the era of seeing Broadway shows in our underwear!
In the hour the show ran, a tally on the screen showed up to 850 people watching. That’s not a bad house for a Sunday evening.
The hype for “The Doo Wop Project” promises a trip through the history of Doo Wop. The shorter show required some skimming, and the scholar in me is now tempted to put together a full chronological podcast, which would likely run five hours.
But one thing the show’s performers brought out was how the music of the early rock ‘n’ roll era brought youngsters of all races and classes together. It’s not just the influence that country music and R&B had on each other, but the kids who gathered on street corners for harmonizing. Groups like the Del-Vikings recorded and performed when on leave from the military. Other groups, like the Paragons, were admittedly hoodlums who had to be warned not to bring their zip guns to the studio. For a shut-in Sunday evening, the Doo Wop Project brought a small but choice selection of harmony history to life.
Their next streaming concert will be “The Doo Wop Project: In Your Home For The Holidays.” It’s scheduled for December 12 at 7 pm Central. Tickets will be at stellartickets.com soon.