BWW Feature: At Home With Brad Simmons
Brad Simmons is a name that people speak with reverence... and a little bit of mischief. The Maestro that Susie Mosher will go nowhere without inspires a similar reaction in the hearts of many celebrated performers and it isn't just because he is a musical marvel, it is because he is a game guy, ready for anything, always up for something interesting, out of the box, and fun. The music flows from every part of his being, but it doesn't do it alone - it always comes with healthy doses of adventure and heart. Never will an audience see Brad Simmons on a stage that his absolute adoration of his craft doesn't show - he is never not having a good time, and that's where an audience and a colleague come to fall in love with Simmons.
He's more than the dude at the piano, though. It may sound cliche, but the truth is that cliches exist because they are true. There he is, the man at the keyboard, being supportive, being professional, being a friend to the artists beside whom he stands. There's more though...
I interviewed Brad this week via remote about his music, his religious upbringing, his wishes and regrets, and two gorgeous dogs.
This interview was conducted digitally and has been reproduced only minor changes to punctuation, in an effort to show readers that, even when writing a letter, Brad Simmons is writing lyrics.
Name: Brad Simmons
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): "kNOw BS!", 2002, (the now-defunct Danny's Skylight Room on Restaurant Row)
Most Recent Cabaret Show: solo show "Storyteller"
Brad, I think I saw a photo of you in a swimming pool recently - are you lucky enough to be quarantining out of town where there is some nature and open spaces?
Once the doors were closed at the clubs and the NYC workforce was downgraded to 75%, my partner, Stewart, and I fled to central Florida just in the nick of time before the travel bans went into effect. We have spent our days biking, bird watching, dog walking, planning dinners, and swimming. I am well aware of our good fortune during this pandemic. Frankly, we are not excited to return to the war zone. We live in Hell's Kitchen, and we've kept up with the madness and sadness.
When at home in New York under regular circumstances, you are in a constant state of work mode -- are you having any kind of withdrawal?
I think I'm at peace for this first time in twenty years! Like others in show business, I've hustled and bustled to pay the rent and to try to stay relevant. And I've done so without ANY representation. I have taken a much-needed pause in Florida, yet I have written new songs and have been digitally releasing music. Be sure to check out my new song "Little Man". I now have Dean Sharenow mixing down a song that Sean Harkness brilliantly accompanied called "Oh Well". Be on the lookout for that tune.
As a musical artist, you've done just about everything - on the stage, under the stage, in the recording booth - which of your musical pursuits was the first one to bubble up from inside of you?
I knew from the age of 5 that I wanted to be a professional singer. I heard harmonies easily and I picked up piano quickly... I remember baffling my piano teacher. She would ask me to work on a single page, or a particular Mozart or Beethoven movement, and I'd return the next week with the entire piece memorized. What can I say, I enjoyed practicing. With that, I was a very active church musician... as a choir member, choir director, playing services at age 12, doing church concert tours in high school. I was always focused on doing what I do! Mind you, no one else did what I was doing.
Put a picture in my head of what a day of relaxation for you looks like.
Taking long walks, listening to nothing but nature, drinking pots of black coffee with a joint.
The Christmas show that you did in 2019 featured some very personal rhetoric about your experience growing up gay in an Evangelical southern family - was it a difficult decision to tell your audiences such a personal tale from your life?
I have to begin by telling you this: I'm a master teacher at the Cabaret Conference at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. I've led the Junior Fellows for ten wonderful seasons, and I am in preparation for our first online season. Vulnerability and honesty are what I teach there... and it's what I teach with all of my clients. I found that I had been giving my audiences what I thought they wanted: Brad the "Showman"....you know, up-tempo, high energy Billy Joel, Elton John, Freddie Mercury. Because nobody was doing that material! Sure, I could do some quasi-jazz, quasi-swing, show tunes galore... but why get lost in that shuffle, and why reek of such inauthenticity? My southern music influences are gospel, rock, and country. I was going to become the new Michael W. Smith, the new Steven Curtis Chapman (these are Contemporary Christian artists), and move to Nashville ... but once I came out in 1993, I knew that THAT particular industry wasn't going to accept me even if I denied it. Eventually, I would be outed and exiled....and we all know how forgiving and loving most so-called-Christians can be. So, I packed up and moved to NYC to pursue a Broadway career, where others, like me, were not only accepted but celebrated. I had not shared my story and my struggles with an audience publicly.... it was time! And the feedback from sharing has been incredibly moving and healing.
Tell me about the puppy that I see all over your Facebook page.
Well, I have two pups. Two Jack Russell Terriers. A boy and a girl named Mac and Cheese. I waited a long time to have pets. This career keeps you nauseatingly self-focused. Mac and Cheese have balanced my day to day life. Now, all I want is to live in the country with a house full of JRTs! They are so smart, so active, so needy but so precious.
You've had a lot of sit-down gigs in New York City - you've got one now with The Lineup every week; does it take a lot of mental preparation to go out on the road after staying home for work for a long time?
I've focused solely on developing new musicals. I've worked with Lewis Flinn & Douglas Carter Beane regularly for a decade: Lysistrata Jones, Star-Spangled, Mr & Mrs. Fitch, and the upcoming Hood, among others. I made the decision long ago to stay in NYC rather than music directing revivals all over the country. I had a weekly show with Susie Mosher at Feinstein's/54 Below called "Backstage" and now "The Lineup" at Birdland again with Susie. On the road, I've worked with Christina Bianco, Alice Ripley, Erich Bergen, Tori Scott. I love touring... I enjoy leaving NYC as much as I enjoy being in NYC. Balance is crucial.
With all the time you spend working on other peoples' projects, do you miss having time to do your own writing and performing?
Yes, I do! My dream was never to be an accompanist to others. I mean, was that your dream? Of course not. Even though I moved up to sing and act (do you remember Camp?)... as soon as the casting directors heard me play, I got shifted to the Music Director filing cabinet. Back then, being a multi-hyphenate artist was frowned on. Isn't that stupid? I still have animosity about it! I didn't go to one of the top northern schools that seemingly escort you right onto the Broadway stage. I'm grateful for the work I've self-generated, I mean, how many people can claim to be a Broadway Conductor? Very, very few... but I'm SO MUCH MORE than that. I've written four musicals that have had very little interest, I've recorded five albums. But the industry could care less. I'm sure this reads as sour grapes... and so be it. I'm getting older, I don't have time to sugarcoat anything anymore.
When you're out front, doing the performing, what genre of music are you most likely to choose to play?
Rock, pop, and country: my ORIGINAL tunes or from my favorite songwriters.
Brad, who is Stevie Nicks?
LOL In a world where so many worship Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Madonna, Stevie Nicks is my goddess of constant inspiration. Along with Dolly Parton and Cyndi Lauper, these ladies are all outrageously original and are STILL TOP-NOTCH PERFORMING ARTISTS.