Under the Streetlamp's Shonn Wiley, David Larsen and Their Weekend With The Nashville Symphony
Under The Streetlamp - the critically acclaimed musical group that's returning to Nashville this weekend for a trio of performances with The Nashville Symphony - was formed when four friends, who had appeared together in the Chicago production of the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, decided they should continue their collaboration after the show was shuttered.
Now, ten years later and while the make-up of the group's membership has evolved with time, Under The Streetlamp is still going strong, bringing their unique harmonies and esprit de corps to audiences throughout the country, bringing songs from another era to life for discerning, contemporary followers who (make no mistake about it) love their sound.
"When you're starting something from scratch, you never know what the response will be," admits Shonn Wiley, one of the group's original members. "We were very fortunate to catch lightning in a bottle. The unlikelihood of what we did [in 2009] becoming what Under The Streetlamp is now [in 2019] has been a welcome surprise."
Once the decision was made to create Under The Streetlamp, Wiley - who may best be described as a quintessential song-and-dance man, judging from his burgeoning resume and onstage ease during a performance - said he and his compatriots began learning other music from the same era as that of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, which served as the inspiration for Jersey Boys.
"It's always been a joy of mine to follow in the steps of stars like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Sammy Davis Jr.," Wiley says. "Sammy Davis Jr. is one of the few performances who had the ability to bounce around between the tunes from the Great American Songbook and the standards, along with the hipper, younger music of the 1960s. That's kind of been the way I've tried to funnel my own musical interests into Under the Streetlamp."
Wiley credits "the honest and pure way this came about" with creating a formula to ensure success for Under The Streetlamp even as its members have evolved. When someone leaves, the remaining men have legions of talented friends to call upon in order to find someone to step in. That, Wiley maintains, and the group's control over its material has helped the group to find success on the road.
"We've always had control over the material and how it's presented," he says. "And we've been very fortunate to work with some very talented arrangers to help create our sound."
The group's membership has evolved when a man decides to pursue something else, perhaps he's missed doing musical theater or simply wants to produce his own material.
"Every time one member has moved on, we've been blessed to find a new member," Wiley says. "And it's not so much replacing someone, but rather adding to what's there."
As a result, the members of Under The Streetlamp has been very fortunate, Wiley contends, to celebrate the music they love while sharing the experiences of performance and interacting with the group's loyal fan base (known as "The Lampers").
For David Larsen, one of the newer members of the group, joined Under The Streetlamp after a wildly successful tenure playing Elder Price in the national touring company of the Tony Award-winning Book of Mormon (he played Nashville, at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, in 2016), when Brandon Wardell (another member of Under The Streetlamp) called and asked him to join in the fun.
"I had been off the road from Book of Mormon for a while when Brandon gave me a call and asked if I'd be interested in joining the band," Larsen explains. Having known Wardell since the two were castmates in Good Vibrations (a Beach Boys-inspired musical), Larsen jumped on the offer - "It seemed right up my alley," he claims - and since he and Wiley had known each other since college, it seemed like a wise decision.
Larsen's theatrical career came as a natural progression for the performer who grew up dancing - ballet, tap, jazz and everything else in between - who got his first big break when he was in middle school and was asked to perform in a high school production of Oklahoma! in which he danced the role of Dream Curly.
"I was bitten by the theater bug," he says. "Theater is one of the places where people can truly be themselves among a beautiful and accepting community."
What can audiences expect when Under The Streetlamp takes the stage at Schermerhorn Symphony Center this weekend?
According to Wiley: "The first thing you'll see is that it won't be just the four of us and our seven-piece band - we'll be backed up by 45 of the best musicians in town, the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony."
"You'll get to hear these wonderful arrangements, performed to their full capacity with strings, horns, percussion...which really lends itself to songs like 'When You're Smiling,' the Four Seasons medley, The Beach Boys medley," he suggests. "And you're gonna hear all your favorite music from the 1950s, 1960s and beyond."
The resulting program is "very eclectic," Wiley says, "and we've put our stamp on this music and made it our own."
Larsen agrees, and adds one particular note about the Music City crowd: "Audiences in Nashville know the difference between good musicians and bad musicians immediatel and songs they know and love. We're going to give them a show with full-on choreography, along with our seven-piece band that's always on the road with us, along with the Nashville Symphony."
The result? "You can expect a wall of sound coming at you," Larsen promises.
"We take these songs, give them our own interpretation and infuse them with such life that today's audience will be totally captivated by," he says. "We're keeping this music alive for all generations."
More about Shonn Wiley
"Not only is Shonn Wiley one of the small handful of true triple threat performers in New York City, but he is one of an even smaller group that can hold an audience in the palm of his hand..."
Originally from Adrian, Michigan, Shonn started performing at six, when his father put him in dance classes. Immediately, Shonn was hooked. It was at the Historic Croswell Opera House that his passion for performing was born. Upon graduation from high school, Shonn was already a seasoned entertainer, having been in over 50 musicals. He made his Broadway debut in the Tony Award-winning revival of 42ND STREET where he performed at the famed Radio City Music Hall. Shonn later returned to the Broadway stage in DRACULA, The Musical.
Other NYC credits include Junior Dolan in ON YOUR TOES, John Trainor in NO NO, NANETTE, Jack Donahue in MY VAUDEVILLE MAN, Richard Loeb in THRILL ME, understudying and performing title character in CANDIDE at New York City Opera, STAIRWAY TO PARADISE costarring Kristin Chenoweth at City Center Encores!, THE VIEW FROM HERE, and movies TINY DANCER and CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. Shonn was featured in the Chicago cast of "Jersey Boys" as Bob Gaudio and performed on the final season of the Oprah Show.
As a choreographer, Shonn received a Lucille Lortel Award nomination, as well as a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography for MY VAUDEVILLE MAN. Other choreography projects: Come Dance with Me, Sweeney Todd and Pool Boy at Barrington Stage, The View from Here, Music Man and Forever Plaid. Shonn serves as the choreographer for Streetlamp. He holds a BFA in Drama from Carnegie Mellon University.
Musical Influences: As a young person growing up in the Midwest, my love for music started with the record player. My father had a collection of old 78s from his childhood and we would listen to the likes of the Andrew Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, Glenn Miller, and Ben E. King. I would spend hours going from record to record. When I was six-years-old, my parents put me into tap dance lessons and then introduced me to movie musicals. I was immediately mesmerized. My dad is a "song and dance man" and when I was young, while most of the kids in my neighborhood were out playing sports, we would sit in the living room and watch all of the classic MGM movies. We would breakdown the dance routines, trying to decipher what steps Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were doing. So many hours were spent in the basement or the driveway perfecting our routines. It was special to have passion for the same things. After my father served in Vietnam for three tours, he came back to the states and decided to put that dream of entertaining on the shelf. He started a family and quickly noticed my passion for performing. The first musical he performed in was the first show I was ever in. It had been almost 20 years since he had been in a show. Probably the performer that I wanted to be most like was Sammy Davis, Jr. He was a true triple threat and had an incredible command of the stage. I admire his ability to cross over between being contemporary and performing the standards embraced by older audience. The sense of playful ribbing and the jokes and party atmosphere that the Rat Pack captured in their shows in Vegas in the 60s, is something that we hoped to create in our live Streetlamp show. The notion that while we take the music seriously and handle it with care, we don't take ourselves seriously one bit!
Favorite Streetlamp Moment: I'd have to say that it's meeting our fans at the end of each show. Music is inside us all. That's why our hearts have beats. Over the years, this defines so many important moments. I like hearing about those memories of our fans. We are definitely in the business of nostalgia and our audiences never shy away from telling us how much fun they've had. I love that the men who served our country come up and talk to me about my father. He served three tours in Vietnam, and I talk about my childhood growing up. They really appreciate the shout out and I think it's wonderful when the audience shows their love for those who served.
Favorite Song to Perform: There are so many great songs in our show I can't pick just one. I love singing the song "Cry." It was made famous by Johnnie Ray, who at the height of his career was as big a star as Elvis became. He was known for his dramatic and "over-the-top" performances, falling to his knees and making the ladies go wild. I am a bit of a cut up, and don't mind going the extra distance when paying tribute. The Beach Boys Medley is the moment I'm most proud of. We weave the songs together in an unconventional way, and the vocal harmonies are so much fun to sing. Lastly, I love to put on my tap shoes and do my signature song and dance to Jump Jive and Wail. The performances of my friends give me great joy. Seeing them succeed is something that makes me proud.
More about David Larsen
David Larsen found a love for the stage when he was 10 years old, growing up in Oregon and watching his younger brother's dance recitals. He leaned over to his grandma and said, "I want to do that someday." The next fall he was enrolled in his first dance class.
In the years to come, he would be dancing with ballet companies all over the Pacific Northwest. David found a love for singing when he joined his school's choir. In junior high school, David combined the two when he performed in his first musical, Oklahoma. That show set him on a wild ride that he has been on ever since.
After attending Carnegie Mellon University where he graduated with a BFA in Theatre, David moved to Los Angeles where he guest starred on Boston Public. Shortly after, David moved to New York where he was quickly cast as the lead role in what would become his Broadway debut, Good Vibrations. Next, David would be in the original company of the Broadway hit, Billy Elliot. That was followed by leading roles in Green Day's American Idiot and Broadway's Hands on a Hardbody. That string of shows had David working with rock-n-roll legends like Brian Wilson and Mike Love, Elton John, Billie Joe Armstrong and Trey Anastasio. Just before joining Under the Streetlamp, David starred in the National Tour of The Book of Mormon as Elder Price.
Currently David lives in New Jersey overlooking beautiful Upper Greenwood Lake. When he is not swimming in the lake or singing songs by the campfire, David is a member of the theatre company The Upstart Creatures, as well as working on countless new works in New York City. Musical Influences: Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys, Nina Simone, Beck, Dr. Dre and most importantly...colleagues of mine that I have been fortunate enough to share the stage and perform alongside.
Favorite Song to Perform: "Happy Birthday" and "The Star Spangled Banner."
About this weekend's concerts with The Nashville Symphony
Under The Streetlamp comes to Nashville for a limited engagement on April 18-20 at Schermerhorn Symphony Center.
Audiences are invited to experience an unforgettable evening where they will hear classic hits from the American radio songbook performed by Under The Streetlamp and the Nashville Symphony, conducted by Enrico Lopez-Yañez. Tickets for Under The Streetlamp are on sale now and available at the Nashville Symphony box office (One Symphony Place, Nashville or by calling (615) 687-6400.
Inspired by the classic hits of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys, Bobby Darin and others, Under The Streetlamp reimagines the best music of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s for today's audiences. With irresistible charm and rapport, Under The Streetlamp offers an evening of great music and hilarious behind-the-scenes tales with four critically acclaimed stars of stage and screen, Eric Gutman, David Larsen, Brandon Wardell, and Shonn Wiley.
This live concert celebration features an exceptional seven-piece band composed of world-class musicians, tight harmonies, and slick dance moves that takes audiences back to an era of sharkskin suits, flashy cars and martini shakers.
Under The Streetlamp was founded in 2009 by leading cast members from the Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys. Since their origination, the group has performed in multiple televised PBS specials with coverage across the US and Canada. Under The Streetlamp has taken their remarkable show to venues in 105 cities across 48 states and 6 countries. During their impressive time on the road, Under The Streetlamp has partnered with some of the world's most prestigious symphony orchestras including The Cleveland Pops Orchestra, The Nashville Symphony, The Detroit Symphony, The Desert Symphony in Palm Desert and many more.
Current company members of Under The Streetlamp include Eric Gutman, David Larsen, Brandon Wardell and Shonn Wiley. Each performer carries with him an impressive list of credits. Between them, they have appeared on Broadway, in feature films and on television - including special appearances during the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, on The Tonight Show, The Primetime Emmy Awards, The Tony Awards, The Oprah Winfrey Show and in hit musicals including The Book of Mormon, Jersey Boys, 42nd Street, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Good Vibrations and Billy Elliott.