UNDER THE STREETLAMP Brings 'The American Radio Songbook' to TPAC Audiences Tonight, 6/14


Timing just seems right for the four men who make up Under the Streetlamp-the quartet that's taking American stages by storm this summer-to share their mantra that "retro never sounded so now!" with the legions of fans of "The American Radio Songbook of the '50's, '60's and '70's" while bringing a whole new audience over to their side of the musical dial.

The four-Christopher Kale Jones, Shonn Wiley and the two Michaels: Cunio and Ingersoll-will be singing to the faithful when their first national tour brings them to Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center for tonight's June 14 performance (curtain's at 7:30 p.m.) at the James K. Polk Theatre.

Introducing themselves and the music they love to a whole new audience while simultaneously reminding original fans of those songs why they fell in love with the music in the first place, the four men of Under the Streetlamp first became friends and co-stars in various incarnations of the national touring companies of Jersey Boys, the mega-hit Broadway musical (it's been packing 'em in at the August Wilson Theatre in New York City for almost seven years now) that tells the timeless and tuneful story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons-which includes Nashville's own Bob Gaudio, who wrote and produced most of the group's best-loved tunes.

"We got together while doing Jersey Boys," says Michael Cunio. "And subsequently we started Under the Streetlamp. We're all really close friends, so we look at this as something we were originally doing as a lark, but which has really taken off. And it's super cool and totally overwhelming."

Starting off their first national tour in Cleveland, Ohio (not coincidentally, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), "it's our first time to do the tour bus thing," explains Michael Ingersoll, as Under the Streetlamp moves across the United States, kicking off the first leg of their tour with stops in Chicago, Indianapolis and Nashville.

According to Ingersoll, each of the men spent different tenures in Jersey Boys-ranging from one to three years-and they began to sing different music during their time off from the show, which included performances in Ingersoll's cabaret act.

"We started singing other music for fun, to sort of freshen up our week," he says, adding that once Jersey Boys was a certified hit in Chicago, requests for the men to perform at social and charity events began to increase.


"On our nights off-Sundays and Mondays-we'd be singing songs of the Beatles, the Drifters, Dion and the Belmonts," Ingersoll remembers. "People started responding and we had friends asking us to do shows for a lot of worthy causes."

"Ingersoll had been doing a cabaret on nights off from Jersey Boys and he invited us to join him-and a chemistry and electricity took hold," Cunio offers. "As we explored it, it was only a matter of time before Under the Streetlamp was born."

As the four men created their act-they work together insofar as song selection is concerned, working out their slick choreography (much of the credit goes to Wiley, who's a Drama Desk Award-nominated choreographer) and devising their onstage patter between songs-they realized, Cunio says, that they were crafting a newfangled history lesson of music from the mid-20th century onward.

"It's a journey through the great American rock and roll songbook-from its roots in the 1940s to the present," he explains. "It's a journey through some great classic songs, and we realized at one point that it was like 'the American Radio Songbook.' We do hit music from the 1970s and 1980s, and you'll also hear songs from as early as the 1930s, but what we have is a great wealth of material that features the greatest radio hits of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s."

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.

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