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BWW Interviews: Chatting with 'The Craze' Musicians of ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS

June 25
3:27 2012

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Music plays a key role in the hilarious Broadway production of ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS. Each night on the stage of the Music Box Theatre, 'The Craze', a four member band comprised of musical director Charlie Rosen, lead guitarist Austin Moorehead, percussionist Jacob Colin Cohen and lead singer Jason Rabinowitz, perform original songs by Tony-nominated composer and lyricist Grant Olding. The setting of the play, 1960's England, is a period of musical history marked by a fusion of rock n roll, jazz, folk, country and a little-known genre called skiffle.

Skiffle had its peak at the end of the 1950's. Its unique quality incorporated the familiar sounds of the acoustic guitar and drums with the rather unusual beats of the washboard and tea chest bass. With their anti-establishment, free-style attitude, skiffle players were considered by many to be the predecessors of modern-day punk rockers. With the onset of Rock 'n Roll in the 1960's, the style all but disappeared, yet its influence on future musical genres is undisputable.  

BWW had a chance to chat with all four members of 'The Craze' and find out how they transform themselves each night from four immensely talented American musicians of the 21st century to four young lads from 1960's Brighton, England.

BWW Interviews: Chatting with 'The Craze' Musicians of ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS

Charlie Rosen is a musician and composer who serves as the musical director of 'The Craze.' He made his Broadway debut at age 18 in the musical '13'. A year later he was part of the band of Broadway's 'Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.' His Off-Broadway credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch. 

It's interesting that all your Broadway experiences so far have been with shows where the band performs on stage rather than in an orchestra pit.

Yeah, I seemed to have found this niche for on-stage Broadway bands, isn't that funny?

It is. And I would imagine you prefer it that way.

Yes, you know it's definitely more exciting. I've had experiences, not on Broadway, more growing up, where I've played in pits and l love that as well. But being on stage and as you saw in the show, when we're not playing we're still in front of the stage, it's really cool because you still get to be a part of the action and the chemistry and the excitement of the audience.  Everything that's going on, you get to experience with the actors. It's a little bit more connected to what's actually happening, so it's really exciting.

I was watching the four of you during the performance and you seemed to be laughing just as hard as the audience, as if it were the first time you had seen the show.

Yeah, and especially with this show because it really is different every single night. There are things that the actors will do in the moments where they have room to stretch out with their reactions that continue to surprise us, so we're laughing right along with the audience. You never know what they're going to do.

During your career, you've played in concert and festival venues and I'm wondering how that compares to the more intimate setting of a Broadway theater?

Well, any of those concerts or festivals are usually just a one time thing which is cool, and the audiences are always great. But there's something about having a show that repeats itself, where you can really get to know the experience of the show and how the audience reacts to that. You get to know the material on a more personal level. They are very different ballgames, that's for sure.

'13' was your Broadway debut.

That's right.

The cast was so young and so talented. What was it like working in that atmosphere?

It was cool. You know I was only 18 when I moved out here. I was the oldest one in the cast actually. I was very young, and I had just moved out of my house. I hadn't even gone to college, I moved straight from high school, so at the time it was a little bit overwhelming for me to be thrust in this professional environment. But it was really great and everyone was super helpful. But it was very, 'I can't believe this is really happening. This is amazing.' The Jacobs (Bernard Jacobs Theater) is not the biggest Broadway house, but it felt huge at the time. It felt huge.

And Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson played there as well.

Yeah it did. It came in a year and a half later. That was a very different kind of show!

Were you familiar with skiffle music before you took on this gig?

I wasn't. I wasn't familiar with it at all. Although I was familiar with the genre that resulted from skiffle. But I've learned so much about it through the music and it's such a ubiquitous part of the music that we know, but it's a relatively unknown genre. The Beatles started out as a skiffle group, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds. They all started out playing skiffle music. In fact, I was just watching a Youtube video of Jimmy Page in 1959 as a little boy on a talk show playing skiffle. So not many Americans know about it, but it was pretty important as a predecessor to the British Invasion.

When the four of you are up on stage, it really is reminiscent of The Beatles in one of their earlier performances.

Exactly. Just before they were 'The Beatles' - maybe when they were 'The Quarrymen', their pre-Beatles band.

How did you go about creating the authenticity of that era? Did you study many videos?

Absolutely. We all watched many videos. There's a skiffle legend named Lonnie Donegan, who was kind of what you would call the 'punk' musician of the day, or was as much as you could be in the 60's. He looked clean-cut by our standards, but his attitude at the time was very much cheeky and anti-authority.

So we watched videos of him performing and how he behaved and what we learned is that although it is this very cheeky, young sort of rough music, we had to treat it as if we were Brits in the 50's playing it. We had to play as if we were playing on a variety hour where our suits were clean cut. So we had to be respectful, but we had to be respectfully disrespectful about how we presented the music. And it's been a cool challenge because we are American of course, it's kind of an acting thing really, to learn about the mannerisms of these particular Englishman during this time period.

Do you have acting experience?

No not really. I never did any acting or acting training, but you know working in on-stage bands and being a part of these shows and being around these actors that are so talented, I've really noticed the parallels between creating characters and finding your voice through that character. And its an interesting parallel to playing in a band because not everything is written down. You have the song, but the re-interpretations are totally up to the player. And so I discovered that there really is a parallel between any sort of performance art in the way you create on a personal level.

Have you had a chance to meet with your counterparts, 'The Craze' of the West End production?

No not yet, although we tweet each other all the time. And actually, we joke sometimes about doing a 'Craze' foreign exchange program. It'll probably never happen but we joke about it. Also what has ended up happening is, because we're different musicians, we've come up with other little ideas or licks and we send those licks to them with the composer's approval to put in their show and then they'll send us licks that they have planned out with the composer's approval to put in the show here. It's actually very cool that in the 21st century we're kind of collaborating and continuing to develop the music of the show across the ocean via Twitter.

BWW Interviews: Chatting with 'The Craze' Musicians of ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS

Austin Moorhead is making his Broadway debut in One Man, Two Guvnors, in which he plays lead guitar. He recently played the 2nd national tours of Spring Awakening and Shrek the Musical. He is a two-time prize-winner in one of the world’s most prestigious guitar competions (GFA).

I'm wondering, being that you didn't have any acting experience prior to joining the production of One Man, Two Guvnors, did you think, 'what have I gotten myself into?'

Yeah, there's definitely a little acting work involved for the musicians. You know it's different and it keeps things interesting. Doing a lot of Broadway-type stuff you're usually in a pit a lot. So just being on stage for this show is kind of a new thing for a musical, or for a play with music, so it's fun.

This was your Broadway debut.

It was. It's been great. I couldn't ask for a better show or better music. Grant Olding, the composer is fantastic and he has been hands on with us from the beginning. And I always love being involved with the composer. And the music is great. I grew up on The Beatles and that whole middle set could be Beatles music, it's sounds so similar. So it's a blast to play and we're given such freedom. It's very different than most scores where you have to play exactly what's written every night, and that's the goal of most pits on Broadway. But this is much more of a freedom to play different solos and try different things, so it's really fun for a musician.

Who are some of your musical influences? Obviously The Beatles are one.

Yes, I mean The Beatles were huge for a guitarist like me. I really listen to everything. Prince is a huge influence of mine, I think he's fantastic. I'm really into country guitarists as well like James Burton and Chet Atkins, but I also love some Jazz guys like Pat Metheny. I really listen to a little bit of everything. My background is mainly classical but then I started playing in rock bands and blues and country and all sorts of stuff, so it's fun to get to play in a show where I'm on stage and I kind of get to employ different licks from all the genres I play.

Were you familiar with skiffle before you became involved with show?

I wasn't, no. I had heard the term before but I never really listened to skiffle, especially the UK Lonnie Donegan type of skiffle that this music is based on. But it's such a conglomerate of American blues and jazz and country and country western, so it's stuff we're all very familiar with, that we grew up with. 

Was it difficult to create the look and sound of an authentic 1950's British band?

I think it just fell into place. We worked a lot with Grant who had been doing the show in England and he's so familiar with the style. He worked with us everyday, not just on the playing but the presentation, and being on stage and how he wanted us to look. And we were given a lot of freedom and then he would just sort of guide us and give us ideas, what looks correct and how it should look and sound. So I think it fell into place and we all just sort of meshed from the beginning and it just worked out well.

Yes, it looks like you've been playing together for years.

Yes, well that was the goal, so I guess it worked!

What would you say is the biggest thing you've learned so far from this experience?

I think the whole acting element has been probably the biggest learning experience for probably most of the band, but for me especially. Just being on stage and having to be engaged in the show, the whole show. I'm used to being in pits where I can play a song and then take a break and just sort of zone out for a little while. This is 2 1/2 hours of being engaged in the show. We're right in front of the audience so we have to be paying attention the whole time.

Do you compose your own music as well?

Yes. What I'm doing right now is focusing on pop song writing for singers, for performers who want to do albums. So I'm working on getting a catalog of pop tunes ready that I can work with singers with and hopefully, eventually one of them will make it big and launch my songwriting career. I really enJoy Songwriting but not performing my own stuff. I like writing for other people.

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Caryn Robbins Caryn Robbins is a Senior Editor and daily contributor to BroadwayWorld, and manages the TV, Film and Music spin-off sites. Her original musical comedy DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT (follow @DearStudent) has been staged in two NYC theater festivals and was performed as an Equity Staged Reading in New York City in 2015. This June DEAR PROSPECTIVE STUDENT won 'Best Ensemble Show' in Chicago's Premier Premieres Festival. Follow Caryn on Twitter @CarynRobbins
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