Broadway vets ‘doowopify’ contemporary songs, oldies
If you go …
WHO: The Doo Wop Project
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Robins Theatre, 160 E. Market St., Warren: The Doo Wop Project
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $20 to $45 and are available at the Robins box office and online at robinstheatre.com.
Stage actors never know when or where their next job will be. It’s an endless cycle of auditions and waiting for opportunities.
A group of Broadway veterans is breaking that cycle with The Doo Wop Project, which comes to the Robins Theatre on Friday.
The group was born a decade ago backstage at “Jersey Boys” when cast members Dominic Nolfi and Dominic Scaglione Jr. came up with the idea of creating a group that specialized in the tight harmony singing style popularized by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the doo wop groups of the 1950s.
“It’s our little doo wop baby that’s matured over the years,” bass vocalist Dwayne Cooper said during a telephone interview. “It started out as a little idea that Dom and Dom created, and it’s become a full-fledged company and we’re very, very appreciative of it.
“There’s a demographic who loves this music. We love this music, and we all have our own individual stories to express our love for this music and it gives us the power to not have to walk into the audition room and hope to get a job. We’ve created such a good project that allows us to put smiles on people’s faces and keep this music alive.”
The current lineup features Nolfi, whose Broadway credits include “A Bronx Tale” and “Motown: The Musical” in addition to “Jersey Boys”; Charl Brown, a Tony nominee for his performances as Smokey Robinson in “Motown: The Musical; John Michael Dias, who played Frankie Valli on Broadway and on tour in “Jersey Boys” and also appeared in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”; and Russell Fischer, another “Jersey Boys” veteran who also starred in the second national tour of “Big: The Musical.”
Cooper might have the most interesting resume of all. He made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of “Hairspray” and he played Melvin Franklin of The Temptations in “Motown: The Musical.” He got his start singing in the Christian a cappella group The Cunningham Singers and also has competed on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
“Being the consummate performer that I am, I stated out as a choreographer in college for a lot of drag performers,” Cooper said. “That snowballed into drag artists telling me maybe I should pursue it as well. I thought it would be a great way to showcase an extension of my artistry.
“For instance, I was enamored by the likes of Judith Jameson, Chita Rivera and Debbie Allen, and those female artists, you can’t pay homage to when you’re dressed as Ben Vereen. “So I wanted to step into that lane and show those sides of my artistry.
“Doing so for so long in New York and in some small parts in TV and films doing drag, it just felt like a no brainer to throw myself in the ring with the Broadway of drag, and the Broadway of drag is ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ I always wanted to play in spaces of greatness and that was one of them.”
Cooper also puts his choreography skills to use by creating moves for The Doo Wop Project.
“I love doing it,” he said. “I love coming up with ideas, figuring out what works with their bodies. They’re not necessarily dancers but singers who move well.”
A Doo Wop Project concert features many songs that one would expect from a vocal group with that name — hits by The Four Seasons, The Drifters, Motown acts and other vocal groups from the 1950s and ’60s. But the singers also “doowopify” contemporary songs, from Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” to Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places.”
The latter was one of Cooper’s suggestions.
“My mom always played different types of music in the house,” he said. “She really liked Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, The Judds. I grew up in South Carolina, and I’ve always had an appreciation for all the genre of music. And I was in high school in the ’90s, and ‘Friends in Low Places’ was pretty popular. Most of the people around me knew that song, it didn’t matter if you were black or white or any other race. I wanted to bring a song to the group that sort of was all encompassing of people but also fun to sing along with and something that could reach a really broad audience.”
Not every contemporary song can be doowopified. Alicia Keys’ “New York State of Mind” is one where they never found a satisfactory arrangement. There’s some trial and error, Cooper said. But the errors don’t make it out of the rehearsal space.
“Friends in Low Places” and others can be heard in The Doo Wop Project’s PBS concert special in June. PBS has been a successful tool for many musical acts who have a sound that isn’t an obvious fit in current radio formats.
The group already is seeing the benefits of the relationship.
“It’s a dream come true, particularly for me,” Cooper said. “As a child, I grew up watching PBS, watching ‘Sesame Street,’ sitting with my grandfather watching these shows, so it’s a full-circle moment for me … It’s elevated our presence, our visibility. It’s definitely garnered us a lot more bookings. We’re currently booked through November of next year, and it’s only increasing.”