Thursday, December 7, 2017
As anyone who caught the recent touring production of Jersey Boys that landed at the Granada in November can attest, the impact of hearing four great singers locked into a chord has not diminished in the years since such great groups as the Four Seasons and the Beach Boys were in their heyday. If anything, in this era of auto-tuned pop rap and EDM, the excitement that only the blending of live human voices can provide has become rarer and more urgent. Under the Streetlamp is a group composed of Eric Gutman, Brandon Wardell, Christopher Kale Jones, and Shonn Wiley; they are great singers and, among many other things, former cast members of Jersey Boys and Good Vibrations, the Beach Boys musical. The group had a popular PBS special in 2012 that has gone on to become a staple of pledge drives all over the country, and they are bringing their show Hip to the Holidays to the Granada on Saturday, December 9. What makes them special is that, in addition to singing excellent arrangements with a crack live band, they dance like Broadway stars. I spoke with Brandon Wardell recently by phone from Oklahoma, where the group was preparing to take the stage at the Grand Casino Hotel & Resort in Shawnee.
Will the show be all holiday material, or will you mix in other songs? It will be half and half. We like to keep the real crowd-pleasers in the mix.
I see you do one of my favorite Christmas carols — “Santa Claus Is Back in Town.” Yes, we do. That’s a dirty song.
In that one Santa’s got no reindeer or sack. And he’s coming in a big black Cadillac.
That’s my kind of Santa. You must love performing, as I see you could just as easily be a full-time producer [Wardell has produced several Tony-nominated Broadway musicals, including 2012’s winner for Best Revival of a Musical, The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.] What makes Streetlamp such a cool project for us is that we produce the show ourselves. We’re all soloists with significant theater experience, and that allows us to create something that’s tightly scripted, yet still spontaneous and exciting.
How has your experience as a producer in the studio for the recordings of such shows as Gypsy with Patti LuPone, Fela, and Ain’t Misbehavin’ influenced your approach? Through producing you gain access to a whole range of people that you might not otherwise meet or work with. When I go into the studio, I make an effort to get to know every person involved, from the intern getting the coffee to the star of the show. You learn something new from every project, and that’s great.
What’s your favorite part about singing harmonies? I sing the high harmonies, and one thing that’s important to understand is that working in a group like this is hard! Singing a lead is often less complicated than supporting one. What I like best is how some chords have a visceral impact. There’s one in Good Vibrations that can give people goosebumps.
I think I know that chord. It’s around a high note. Yes, that’s right. [He sings the note.]
Wow, yes; that’s it. What else should people know about the show? It’s not a musical; it’s a party. We cut loose more than on the PBS special, and we expect people to sing along and dance if they feel like it. We like it when things get rowdy.
Under the Streetlamp’s Hip to the Holidays is Saturday, December 9, 8 p.m., at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). For tickets and information, call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.