BWW Interviews: BWW Critic to Crooner Stephen Hanks on the Eve of His Final Don McLean Tribute Show
A few weeks before BroadwayWorld.com Cabaret Reviewer and Columnist Stephen Hanks was about to stage the opening night of his debut solo cabaret show on May 31, a number of cabaret performers asked him if he was going to write about the experience in some way, with some even encouraging him to keep a diary. "It might be really interesting to read how your perspective about cabaret performers and performing might have changed and how it might impact your reviews now that you're doing it yourself," one singer told him.
"It was a fascinating notion and one that I had already thought about," Hanks admits, "but between a full time job, attending shows, writing reviews, taking vocal lessons, rehearsing, etc., finding the time and the energy to keep even a weekly diary was not in the cards."
Hanks certainly didn't think he'd forget even the little things that have gone into making his journey what he calls "an amazing, fantasy-fulfilling, almost surreal experience." On the eve of his last performance of his three-show run (over three weeks) at the Metropolitan Room of Beyond American Pie: The Don McLean Songbook, BroadwayWorld.com sat down with our lead cabaret reviewer to get his insights and perspective on what's it been like to be on the performer end of things.
BWW: So, Mr. Hanks, after two performances of your Don McLean Tribute Show, you've received some wonderful testimonials. Are you surprised by the reaction and is the show and the experience exceeding your expectations?
Stephen Hanks: How could I not be surprised and even a bit overwhelmed by the praise? I'm not experienced and confident enough as a singer and performer to be so cocky that I expected such a positive reaction to the show. Naturally, my goal was to be the best I could be and if people left the club thinking, "Wow, he was better than I thought he'd be" then I'd consider it a success. But equally as important to me was celebrating the songs of the vastly underrated Don McLean and hopefully revealing what a great songwriter he was and perhaps create some new fans. When people come up to me after the show and say, "I didn't realize Don McLean wrote so many beautiful songs other than 'American Pie,' I feel I really accomplished something because it confirms what I always believed, and that I was a decent enough singer to get the meaning and the emotion of the songs across.
BWW: When did you begin thinking about doing this show?
SH: I've probably fantasized about it in one way or another since I was about 16, when I became a McLean fan after the American Pie album was released and realized he was way more than a one-hit wonder. Of course, I didn't know what cabaret was then so the idea of doing this kind of show really took hold right after I started reviewing shows almost three years ago. And I've always been a proponent of one living out their fantasies. I just had to find the right time in my schedule to do the show and give myself enough time to work on my vocals to the point where I could be confident I wouldn't embarrass myself. I found a wonderful vocal coach in Jamie Leonhart, who is a great singer herself, and in six months she got me to a point where I was ready to get on a stage and sing.
BWW: Had you had any singing or performing experience before this show?
SH: Well, not as a professional but I've been singing in front of audiences off and on my whole life. I was in my high school chorus as a tenor for three years. Between 2002-2010, I produced an amateur workshop called the "Broadway Musical Fantasy Camp," and did staged-reading productions of shows like Damn Yankees, Guys & Dolls, South Pacific, and Fiddler on the Roof. In Guys & Dolls, I played Sky Masterson and then Nathan Detroit in two different productions. I also took a bunch of cabaret workshops at the 92Y, directed by Collette Black, and performed at Don't Tell Mama and the Laurie Beechman with four or five other singers each time. Since I've gotten involved in cabaret reviewing, I've sung in a lot of open mics just for the fun of it. And last February I did a couple of numbers when I hosted the BroadwayWorld Cabaret Awards Show at the Metropolitan Room. (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)