BWW Interview: Wade Preston of MOVIN' OUT in Bridgeport
Wade Preston, The Piano Man from the Billy Joel-Twyla Tharp Broadway hit, Movin' Out, will open Bridgeport's award winning Downtown Cabaret Theatre's 40th anniversary season this month. Theatre patrons who saw the show on Broadway raved that Preston was even better than Billy Joel himself. But it's not just a matter of imitating a great artist. Preston is a formidable singer, pianist and songwriter in his own right. BroadwayWorld just had to learn more about him.
BWW: You and Billy Joel have a bit in common. You both grew up in Long Island and you both began playing the piano when you were young. Once you started working with Billy, what else did you learn you have in common, and what did you learn from him?
WP: We both moved to the West Coast for a while to get away from our situations on Long Island. He came back to Long Island after a while, but I stayed in California for a long time. I did quite well on the West Coast. I lived near the beach. It was a pleasant lifestyle. It was Movin' Out that got me to come back to the east coast. Otherwise, I would probably still be living by the beach.
I learned a great deal from Billy, too much to mention here, but the greatest thing he shared with me was how seriously he took his way of composing. He said he would improvise, dream about what he improvised, and words and ideas would all come together very slowly, and take a lot out of him. He said that's why he doesn't want to do it anymore. I found that to be fascinating. I have no such discipline. Music, words, come to me when they come to me and I jump on the ideas when I have them, or they go away.
I thought it was interesting also that he would have ideas come to him in his dreams. That also happens to me from time to time. My song, "Broken," with Shotgun Wedding, is an example of that.
BWW: Movin' Out is an unusual show because there are dancers on stage who don't sing, and it's the piano player who holds the attention of the audience because many people come to the show for the music, not for the dancers. (Sorry, Twyla Tharp, but Billy Joel's music is more recognizable than your choreography.) Do you find any challenges in that? Do you feel you have to win over the serious dance lovers?
WP: Not really. The dance lovers got what they came for. Twyla's choreography was tremendous, so it was really just more to watch, more eye candy. You had a rock concert up above, and a rock ballet down below. And Twyla's dancers were some of the best in the world.
I often thought that may have been an additional reason for the show's success. People felt like they might have missed something, since there really were two shows going on at once. A lot of people came back to see the show numerous times. That certainly helped ticket sales.
BWW: How visible are you to the audience in the various theatres you play?
WP: Well, when the show was running, I was dead center above the stage. Quite visible. I was the narrative, using Billy's songs to tell the story, so it made sense. We were an onstage band, instead of hiding in the pit. I felt it made for a much more exciting visual. Of course, Movin' Out, the Broadway Show, hasn't been playing for a while, so when the Movin' Out Band does shows, it's just us, and I am front and center, in plain sight for our entire performance. We do the entire versions of songs, unlike the abridged versions we did in the show. And also, we do some songs that weren't in the show. So, it's a concert. No dancing. Unless sax player John Scarpulla's children come up on stage during "You May Be Right," like they did at the Lakeside Theater in Eisenhower Park, NY. Then, yeah, there's some dancing. Although Twyla had nothing to do with that.
BWW: Tell us about the Shotgun Wedding music. How did this city-country music come about? When will the debut album be released?
WP: Dennis DelGaudio was the lead guitarist in Movin' Out, as well as the musical director for the London production of Movin' Out. We were working on a duo project when he asked me if I wanted to join a country band. There was a lot going on with me at the time. I just answered, quite unceremoniously, "Okay." It has turned out to be one of the best bands I've ever been in. And the music is ours. Soon bassist Andy Cichon and drummer Chuck Burgi, both currently playing with Billy, joined the band. Chuck was also the drummer in Movin' Out. And now we also have Catherine Porter on vocals. She has a pretty extensive resumé as well, including performing with Michael Crawford and being in Brian May'' band. So we have four lead vocalists in the band, all taking turns singing lead, and the harmonies are like no band I've ever been in before. And everybody in the band writes. It's a wonderful project to be a part of. I hope Shotgun Wedding is an important part of my life for the rest of my life, honestly.
The City-Country concept came from the fact that we are all New Yorkers who love and play classic country music. I think Dennis coined the genre. Our style is a bit slick, all real monster players, and our stories are about the city instead of the country. We felt we had a sub-genre within a genre that is beloved worldwide. As far as I know, we are the only City-Country band. It's a very unique sound.
Our CD, entitled City Country is available at our shows, but it will be officially released in January 2016 on iTunes. I'm not sure of the official date, it has moved around a bit, but check our website www.shotgunweddingnyc.com, and that should give you all the details.
BWW: Tell us about the creative process in your songwriting.
WP: I tend to write about things that are personal. Real stories, usually from my own life. It's very difficult for me to just make up a song that isn't personal somehow.
And, as I mentioned before, ideas come to me sometimes while I'm dreaming. That can be a bit trying if I know I have to be up early. But if it's good enough, I'll just get up and plunk it out on the piano and record it on my iPhone, and type up the lyrics on my lap top. They come to me when they come to me. I am always grateful if they come to me when I can get to a piano. And, unlike other composers, there is no rhyme or reason the way it comes together. Sometimes a lyric idea comes first, sometimes a musical idea ... I just take it as it comes. I hear music in my head all the time. If I don't recognize it, there is a good chance that I'm making it up myself, and I try to play it and record it before it just evaporates. When I'm on a plane my mind tends to wander, and I find that's a great place for coming up with lyrics, as there is nothing else to do.
I love to improvise on piano, and sometimes if something jumps out at me, I'll play it again, and so sometimes that is a good writing tool. Also, if Dennis is there, he'll stop me and say, "What was that? Do that again." And so, having him to write with can be incredibly productive. Dennis is a great arranger, as well as a great writer. He is the only person I've been able to collaborate with so easily. When he and I get together, we always get something done.
BWW: What are your favorite venues for performing and why? What were your greatest challenges?
WP: There are so many to choose from, so many wonderful memories associated with all those venues. It's a great feeling to be able to make a large group of people happy. I call it intangible medicine. We don't know why it makes people feel better. It just does.
Anyway, I like theaters. People are sitting facing you, and it's understood that you are going to give them a show. And there are so many theaters and great audiences across the country, I just couldn't name them all, or pick just a few. I love them all!
I do concerts with the Movin' Out Band, with Shotgun Wedding, and a lot of solo concerts. Solo concerts are particularly liberating, because I can play whatever I want. I have a pretty eclectic repertoire, and love to jump all over the map style-wise. It also gives me the opportunity to connect more directly with my audience, and that's great fun. With the MOB and Shotgun Wedding, there is a specific arrangement and set list, and it's all great, but I also love the freedom of a solo show where I can stop in the middle of a song, joke with the audience and jump right back into the song without it being a train wreck.
Keeping the voice together is a bit of a challenge. I have to watch what I drink, eat, make sure I get enough sleep, and sing as properly as I can. If the voice isn't there, the show can't go on, and a lot of people are relying on me. So, that's a challenge, indeed.
BWW: You told The Boston Globe that you would be an astrophysicist because you love astronomy. Did you formally study anything else besides music?
WP: Since my education is somewhat limited, I find that I am constantly trying to educate myself. I never stop trying to learn from my friends at JPL or space.com. I'm interested in all kinds of things, but when it comes to music, astronomy and physics, those are my passions. Perhaps my lack of education has left me with a thirst for learning. I still take voice and piano lessons. Nothing so good that can't be improved, as one of my first piano teachers used to say.
I've been working on a book for a few years now, a paranormal thriller based mostly in the early thirties, and that requires a ton of research which I really enjoy. I've learned a great deal from trying to tell a fictitious story that actually started with a dream I had.
And it's usually about here where I tell kids, hey, stay in school, do your homework, try to behave, and it will make your lives so much easier!
BWW: What else would you like BroadwayWorld readers to know about you?
WP: People seem impressed by the fact that I rehearsed with Billy's enhanced band for Shea Stadium for a few months before the shows. Billy was busy, so he hired me to take his place as Stunt Billy, my unofficial title, for all of the rehearsals. He actually said to me at Shea, "Thanks for making my life so easy." Obviously, it was my pleasure. A lot of work, but great fun. There is no mention of any of that in the movie.
I'm a pretty private person, actually kind of shy despite what I do for a living. One of the things that I love about my livelihood is it affords me the opportunity to meet all kinds of people that I would never have met otherwise. And I love that. The vast majority of the people I have met over this lifetime have been really good people. And that keeps me optimistic about the future.
The Downtown Cabaret Theatre (DCT) opens its 40th Anniversary season on September 19 at 5:00 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Enhance your experience by bringing your own dinner and wine. For more information, call 203-576-1634 or visit www.mycabaret.org and www.wadepreston.com.