Interview: Catching Up With The Men of MAMA'S BOYS (HEART) THE 80'S at Don't Tell Mama

Tommy J. Dose, Brian Kalinowski, Paul Pilcz & Jon Satrom are ready to have some fun.

By: May. 21, 2022

Interview: Catching Up With The Men of MAMA'S BOYS (HEART) THE 80'S at Don't Tell Mama

The Boys are back and Don't Tell Mama is where the fans can find them. A Guy Group made up of four men who call that very club their home away from home, Mama's Boys was formed pre-pandemic and enjoying a successful series of shows and guest appearances in other peoples' shows. Then that ended with the rest of the world. Now, one year after the official re-opening of the cabaret community at large, Tommy J. Dose, Brian Kalinowski, Paul Pilcz & Jon Satrom have a brand-new show coming to Don't Tell Mama on June 3rd, and these talented men who often perform solo or as actors have joined forces, once more, for a program designed just for fun.

Before MAMA'S BOYS (HEART) THE 80'S, the four singing actors agreed to a group chat to discuss the history of their group, the pitfalls of the pandemic, and the family atmosphere they enjoy, whenever they go to work.

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minor edits.

Hey, Mama's Boys! Welcome to Broadway World!

BRIAN - Hello! Thank you for having us!

TOMMY - Hello.

PAUL - Hi!

JON - Hi! Thank you!

When you gentlemen formed the group Mama's Boys, you were all working at Don't Tell Mama, hence the name of the group, right? This is not about your personal relationship with your own mothers, but with the home you have on 46th Street. How did the initial impulse to create your group occur?

BRIAN - Yes, that's right. Back in 2018 I was away for a few months doing "Sister Act" in PA. The boys piled in Tommy's car with Tara Martinez (who also works at Mamas) and came to see the show. That night after the show we were all sitting around boozing and having a few laughs, when Tara insisted that we put together a group show with the four of us. So we challenged each other to come up with a list of songs and when I returned to NY, we held a listening party and made a structure for the show. And "Mama's Boys" was born!

TOMMY - Yeah, We had all been working for some time together. We all started at different times, and grew fairly close over the years. One night after seeing Brian in a show, the idea was born, but I would have to credit Tara Martinez as one of the main catalysts to the idea since she was there that night.

PAUL - Yes! The name of the group came from us all working at Mama's together (although I do ironically have a really great relationship with my mother)! The group formed over drinks one night after we Brian in a production of Sister Act in PA. We had some drinks, and some more drinks...and then some more drinks and voila - Mama's Boys Was born!

JON - Yes, and I like that you referred to it as our "home on 46th St." It is exactly that! Apart from the fact that sometimes we work so much that it feels like we literally live there, it feels like home because of the people that work there and the bonds formed. I was the first of the four of us to start working at Don't Tell Mama (I can feel the other boys rolling their eyes now, as they will tell you I won't let any of them forget it)! The infamous night of the inception of Mama's Boys took place shortly after I returned to working at the bar after a 2 year break during which I was working as a company manager on national tours. Brian had started working at Mama's just as I was leaving, so we didn't know each other as well at that point. I tagged along on the trip to see his show in PA. If I remember correctly, Tommy, Paul, and Brian had talked about doing a show together during the period that I was away and it hadn't yet materialized. I'm glad I went on that trip because there may have only been three Mama's Boys instead of four!!

How would you describe the aesthetic of Mama's Boys?

TOMMY - I think our goal for the shows has been to always present music we enjoy, in arrangements that we enjoy, and show off people's specific abilities. A lot of that happens from just sitting around and trying different harmonies and styles. It's a very creative environment where it's ok to say you don't like something, and where it's ok to make a mistake.

PAUL - We're a normal group of guys who love to sing and to sing together! All of our personalities are fairly different, but the same in so many ways. What we do also varies by the show and what we're trying to put in there. For instance, our last show gave you everything from Sondheim to Justin Bieber. This show is specially all 80's music but still ranges from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Madonna.

JON - I like to think being in the audience is like being invited to hang out with us, getting a glimpse into our personalities and relationships to each other while hearing some great music at the same time!

BRIAN - I think our aesthetic is fun, casual, and harmonic. We all kind of look a little similar (we get mistaken for each other at work all the time), but our music styles and voices are all so different. We really tried to showcase our individual strengths and weaknesses and use them to our advantage. For example, I am terrible with harmony. I can learn it, but it takes me longer. Whereas the rest of the guys are able to pick up what the harmonies are in an instant. But we kind of lean into that. I am more of a comedy and "schtick" kind of guy, so that's what I bring to the table. We are all 4 unique people, and we try to portray that in the show.

Does the group have a leader? Or is everything crafted by committee?

TOMMY - Committee, but we all have veto power haha. If someone is uncomfortable or doesn't like a song or decision we try to make sure everyone's opinion is heard.

PAUL - Depends on who in the group you ask! Lol (That was a joke) We definitely decide everything by discussion and what different guys have stronger opinions on certain things than others.

JON - I think we all step up to the plate in leadership roles at different times as needed, but it is certainly entirely collaborative. I'd also like to give a shout out to our incredible musical director, Elliot Roth who is an integral part of the collaboration!

BRIAN - I am the leader of the group. (Just kidding....we take a vote).

Interview: Catching Up With The Men of MAMA'S BOYS (HEART) THE 80'S at Don't Tell Mama

When Don't Tell Mama reopened after the quarantine, you gentlemen were there, ready to work, ready to entertain, ready to be back with the family. Put me in the picture of working in a food and drink establishment during a pandemic.

TOMMY - Not to sugar coat anything but it was honestly terrible. Struggling with weather and outdoor conditions, trying to satisfy customers who had been locked inside for 2-3 months put a lot of stress on us as workers.The physical demand increased and it was very draining in those early months. After the vaccine became available, it made us feel somewhat safer, but it was absolutely a challenge for everyone.

PAUL - It was honestly really scary at times (especially when the city decided to allow for indoor seating again). The thing was - there were still no vaccines, COVID was running rampant, but we still all felt a duty and obligation to do whatever we can to bring music back to the scene and keep Don't Tell Mama alive and well during those crazy times.

JON - The serving part was definitely scary at first. There was so much uncertainty, and the rules changed constantly. Don't Tell Mama did everything from selling to-go cocktails only from the patio, to setting up a full outdoor seating area, a keyboard, and microphones out front where we could entertain the crowd on the street. At times it felt exhilarating to be back, at times it felt degrading, and there were noise complaints from the neighbors. What sticks with me most though is how good it felt to be making music live with my friends again, as opposed to making virtual videos (which had become the quarantine norm).

BRIAN - It was all so touch-and-go. And before the vaccine it was scary because we were all so afraid of catching it or spreading it to each other. I feel like every day was a new strategy of how to stay safe. We did outside for a while and Mama's Boys did a show out on the stairs between the piano bar and restaurant. Then when the weather got too cold, Mama's closed for a few months. The first few shifts coming back after that was like being hit by a bus. Our bodies were not used to it. But then little by little business started picking back up again and now we are back to being slammed all the time.

The clubs have been fully open for indoor seating for about a year, depending on the club, but this is the first time that Mama's Boys is back in action since the stay-at-home order was lifted. Each of you has a solo career, as most performers do - have each of you been working on your own thing, or focusing on readjusting to life in these trying times?

ALL - We actually had one outdoor performance in November of 2020 on the stoop of Don't Tell Mama. We did an encore of our original show, and It was a thrill to sing with the boys again after so many months away. We actually had our show the day after Joe Biden's win was certified and there was definitely a change in the air throughout NYC that was electric. It was a special night.

TOMMY - Personally, I decided to take a step back from Piano Bar after the pandemic. Bartending was taking a physical toll on me, I had been wanting to refocus for a while, and the pandemic provided me the opportunity to do so. I started teaching cooking lessons, and working on Law and Order SVU in the Health and Safety Department. I am now working as the Covid Safety Coordinator for A Strange Loop on Broadway. I'm still deciding what the next phase of my career will be. I'd love to start directing and creating more theater pieces from the ground up. I started writing during the pandemic and am still doing that when I have time. I am fleshing out ideas for a new solo show, and a recording to go along with it.

PAUL - We all definitely have a lot of things going on outside of mamas and Mama's Boys. I've been working in production for the last year for a company called Applause where he runs the film department for an after school program that houses a semi-virtual YouTube channel! Through that company, he's also now working as a producer on his second Peacock Kids digital series all on top of planning his wedding which is coming up in September on top of getting ready to head to Ozark Actors Theater this summer to play Nick Carraway in their production of The Great Gatsby!

JON - As I mentioned earlier, I had stepped away from piano bar entertainment to pursue a career in theater management, but performing called me back and I returned to Don't Tell Mama about a year or so before the pandemic took hold. I am back at it full time at both DTM and Brandy's these days! I often perform as a back-up singer for other artists (which I love to do), and recently returned from singing as part of the entertainment team on a river cruise in Italy chartered by R Family Vacations. I am also in the beginning stages of pondering a new solo show that would be a sort of follow up to my debut show from back in 2015!

BRIAN: Yes we are all four definitely working on our own paths. Scheduling rehearsals for this 80s show has been a challenge because we all have such different schedules. Before Covid, I was out on the National Tour of "Chicago" playing Amos and there's a chance I might be eventually returning to the tour soon. Paul is also getting married this summer and has a lot going on with his other job. So at this point we are only able to schedule this one performance. But hopefully we will get to do the 80s show again.

Tommy, you recently had the honor of announcing Brian as the recipient of a MAC Award for best piano bar entertainer, and when it happened, you kind of burst into tears. Describe what was happening for you, at that moment.

TOMMY - The great thing about that moment for me was I knew someone I loved and respected was going to win that award. Paul, Jon, Brian and Jonathan are all wonderful performers, each has something special about them that makes each of them unique. Each of them deserved it. I think I was overcome because in a way I was passing the torch...I know that sounds so egotistical, and I think presenting the award to one of my best friends is what made it so special.

And, Brian, walk me through the experience of getting an award from someone whose love for you is so great that they would have that reaction to your winning an award.

BRIAN - I know it's cliche, but I really didn't think I would win. So I was taking video of Tommy reading the names, as we were all sitting together in the same row. I had taken a video of Tommy winning the last time he won his award and it was such a great video so I wanted to capture that for them. When he called my name I literally threw my phone at Jonathan and ran up to the stage. I had about 10 things I wanted to say if I won and only managed to get about 3 of them out. Lesson learned: next time, prepare a speech. It wasn't until someone told me later that I found out Tommy got emotional. What a softy! Haha.

Paul, I have to confess that I was full-on weeping by the end of your proposal video on YouTube. How were you able to get so many people involved and not have it leak?

PAUL - I'm so glad you liked the video!! It was honestly a lot of fun to plan and to work out. Ilana knew that I had some kind of proposal in the works, but she had no idea what it was. I started by sending out a huge email to all of our friends and family and then asked some of her friends to reach out to other friends that I may not have met just yet or didn't have contact information for! Then it was just a matter of compiling the videos and getting them to the right people. It was all done virtually because of the pandemic, but came together so well! Again, she knew I was working on something, but we had a rule that when I "had some secret project work to do", she knew not to ask questions and not peek at my computer. An audio producer buddy of mine (J Quet) took all the videos of the band and the singers, stripped them of their audio, put it into protocols and mixed the final track after a few rounds of notes and a videographer buddy of mine (Warren Shaw) took all the videos and mastered track, and together we came up with what you saw!

Jon I see you, often, lending yourself to group shows for a number or two, and you never need a cheat sheet (which many people lean on) - do you think that being a piano bar entertainer gives you a leg up, when it comes to knowing more material than others, or learning songs fast?

JON - You have caught me on good days then, Stephen! I must confess I have had to lean on a cheat sheet here and there myself, but I certainly strive not to. I do think working in the piano bars has absolutely expanded my repertoire! We have to stay current with what the latest trends are because we are sure to get requests for them, so learning new music comes with the territory.

You all have strong connections to both the piano bar and cabaret room communities, put me in the picture of the ways in which the two communities and art forms stand apart, and the ways in which they meld into one.

TOMMY - I think we have a lot of crossover audiences. People who we have befriended from Piano Bar audiences have been introduced to Cabaret, and vice versa. The two artforms though different speak to the same intimate storytelling that people appreciate. We are all trying to tell stories.

JON - Yes, they are similar in the respect that both cabaret and piano bar are intimate. They are performed on small stages, in small rooms with a musical journey to be had! I would say piano bar is much more interactive than a cabaret show. It's more inclusive of the audience, and request driven, with no feeling of a fourth wall at all. I enjoy being a part of both immensely!

PAUL - The cabaret rooms I find are definitely more of a "sit and watch the performer" kind of situation where in the piano bar, you're really fighting to engage with the audience in order to get them to stop their conversations and pay attention. It's definitely much more of a difficult feat, but when that moment happens and you get those 95 people in the house stopping their drinking and talking - it's a really really satisfying feeling!

BRIAN - I think that both art forms are intimate conversations with the audience. They are usually not a "fourth wall" situation, which I think is great because it can be more casual and seem off-the-cuff. Piano Bar is more about reading the audience and using your arsenal of tricks to tailor the direction of the performance to the audience reaction. In cabaret there is usually much less of that. The songs are set and the patter is usually somewhat scripted. But they are both very similar. I feel like in Piano Bar I get to know the audience much better which I enjoy.

So, what is the new Mama's Boys show going to give the Don't Tell Mama audience?

Interview: Catching Up With The Men of MAMA'S BOYS (HEART) THE 80'S at Don't Tell Mama TOMMY - Fun. We wanted to have fun. We didn't want this to be a show about the pandemic, or to send some secret message. We all love this music and we wanted to share some music.

JON - I'm thrilled to say we are going to give the audience a show full of all music of the 1980's!! It is an era of music that I'm particularly fond of (and even in our first show many of my song suggestions were 80's tunes). We are sticking with our brand of fun medleys and arrangements, some light choreography here and there, and a featured moment for each of us with back-up support from the other boys.

PAUL - fun, laughter, great memorable music and an enjoyable hour. We really aim to give people the opportunity to leave their lives for an hour and just enjoy some music, jokes and light debauchery!

BRIAN - This show is going to be less about our connection to each other and more about our connection with the music. We all love the 80s and we are so excited to share that love with everyone! I mean, who doesn't love 80s music?

Has the Mama's Boys brand reached a point where strangers are out front, in the seats, or is your fan base still mostly friends and family?

TOMMY - The great thing about our audiences is that while we have a core group of friends that we all know, we each have different groups from our lives who come to see the show and they get to see someone they have never seen before.So even though someone in the audience may have known me for years and know my talents, they are now seeing three others and being introduced to them as well.

JON - As Tommy said, it helps that there are four of us in that department! I was surprised during the run of our first show to see some strangers attending. I think word of mouth got around a bit with that one, and I hope that continues to be the case as we move forward!

PAUL - I think it's a mixed bag! We have a ton of friends from different groups as well as friends from the piano bar scene! I will say - there are a lot of piano bar fans who are so supportive in coming to the show and having fun with us!

BRIAN - Someone came into the piano bar just last week and sat at the bar and asked me if I was in Mama's Boys. None of us knew her and she told me that she and her family had seen our first show. They had just been visiting in town and happened upon us. So, although it's mostly friends and family, you never know.

Speaking of family, I'd love for each of you to give me your personal take on what makes Don't Tell Mama and the Don't Tell Mama family so uniquely special.

TOMMY - The people who work at Don't Tell Mama are the greatest. They would walk through fire for you. I think it's because we share so much of our emotions on that stage singing for customers. We are not just going through the motions there. To watch someone connect with a lyric or make a new discovery night after night is something you don't encounter working a normal 9-5 or even another serving job.

PAUL - We're just that. Family. We all honestly care about each other so much and it shows in the fun we can have together when we work.

JON - The bond that I share with these boys, and the rest of my Don't Tell Mama family is hard to put into words. We are so much more than just colleagues. These people mean the world to me, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity to work in a place that creates such magical relationships.

BRIAN - It's a very hard job. Not only are we often serving food and sometimes very complicated drinks to a full room of people, we are also putting on a show. We have not had a General Manager since the pandemic, so we are also working with the owners to operate efficiently. We have no choice but to work together as a team. We are handed some crazy situations, and much like a family we laugh together, cry together, and rely on each other for so much! As hard as the job is, it's the Don't Tell Mama family that keeps me sane and always moving forward.

Mama's Boys, thank you so much for visiting with us today, I can't wait to see the show on June 3rd.

BRIAN - Thank you so much! I can't wait for you to see it!

JON - Thanks for having us. So glad you can join us for the show!

TOMMY - Thank you!

PAUL - Thanks, Stephen. We are excited!

See Mama's Boys (Heart) The 80's on June 3rd at 7 pm by making a reservation on the Don't Tell Mama website HERE.

All photos by Curtis Brown Photography