Show celebrates music of dead rock stars
July 18, 2017
When the Rec Room staged its “Dead Rock Star Sing-a-Long Club” last year – a theater/concert/video hybrid production – Prince and David Bowie were the two most logical subjects and inspirations upon which to base the show.
Both were theatrical, otherworldly, gender-bending performers noted for style as well as substance, and provided fine inspirations for this creative production. And then rock stars just kept dying, one after another.
This week the Rec Room will begin its second “Sing-a-Long Club,” where local performers sing notable songs by notable dead singers in a scripted theatrical setting. And while no shortage exists of recently deceased musicians, the selection process requires an eye not just for greatness but for theatricality.
“So Leonard Cohen was not really an option,” says Stephanie Wittels Wachs, who with Matt Hune opened the Rec Room in the summer of 2016. Hune serves as the director of “Sing-a-Long Club,” with music direction by Abby Seible and assistant direction and choreography by Emma Singleton. And this year’s production will be built around the music and lives of Sharon Jones, who died last November, and George Michael, who followed a month later.
The two artists might seem to have little in common. Jones was a powerful singer and performer of old-school soul music who was born in the South and raised in New York. She found success in music, but it took years of working other jobs – like a Wells Fargo guard – before music paid all her bills. Jones’ career finally clicked when she was in her mid-40s.
‘Dead Rock Star Sing-Along Club’
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 12
Where: Rec Room, 100 Jackson
Tickets: $20; recroomhtx.com
By contrast, Michael was barely 21 when his duo Wham! had a huge hit with songs from an album fittingly titled “Make it Big.” He spent years trying to undo his image as a pop pinup, and also dealt with tabloid coverage of his personal life.
“He had to carve out a new identity as an artist, but that was only part of it,” Wachs says. “In the show, a character is struggling with identity, this idea of ‘redesigning who I am.’ ‘Sometimes the clothes do not make the man,’ that idea gets repeated, because I think it’s an interesting springboard. How he had to reshape who he was.”
Both Michael and Jones had affinity for American gospel music, which is one connection. Hune also says, “in addition to the celebration of their music, we talked a lot about how both George Michael and Sharon Jones address their relationships and finding themselves in their relationships within their music. That issue of identity. How to be true to yourself and love yourself while also loving others. Relationships, love, sex, identity: that’s where we went this year.
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“Also they both dealt with a lot of crap and kept going, which is interesting to me. That’s a strong through-line in their work.”
Another aspect of this now annual show is written into its title. Artists are selected for the sing-ability of their music, and audience members will be presented with song books at the door. Part of the Rec Room’s approach to theater was to decrease the perceived space between stage and seats.
“This being a sing-a-long, you want the songs to be somewhat recognizable,” Hune says.
But they also had to assemble a set list that told a story. The goal isn’t a cover band performance.
“You get a sense of which songs feed into others, how they complement each other,” Wachs says. “We’re trying to use music so it has a dramatic arc. So there’s a curation that goes on. It’s like you’d do in a gallery.”
When Rec Room produced the “Sing-a-Long Club” last year, the outpouring of public grief for Prince was still in full fervor, which Hune says came through in the show. This year they’ve struck a different tone.
“That grief lent itself to the vibe of that piece,” he says.
“The feeling this year is different. The look and texture. Last year was more about grief, but this year feels more about celebration.”