Multi-talented musician Donnie Kehr has not only created and promoted “Rockers on Broadway” but has been a rocker on Broadway when he appeared in such musicals as “Billy Elliot,” The Who’s “Tommy,” Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida,” “The Human Comedy” and most notably “Jersey Boys.”
He also was in the first, La Jolla, California, production of the jukebox musical about Frankie Valle and The Four Seasons under Des McAnuff’s direction where he originated the Gyp DeCarlo role. Kehr was then tasked with bringing Norman Waxman to life in the original Broadway production. He then appeared as Waxman in director Clint Eastwood’s big-budget, cinematic version of the show.
But when the song-and-dance man lost his ability to strenuously jump and jive thanks to a fairly recent injury, he had to come up with another reason to be at center stage. So he’s now developed “The Greatest Piano Men,” a celebration of music men and their keyboards. “I grew up on the Broadway stage; I’m self taught on piano and have been playing close to four decades so I wanted to create a celebration of every piano man from Beethoven, Ray Charles, Scott Joplin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Billy Joel who have inspired me and continue to do so.”
In what inevitably has become a more and more elaborate production — “you’ll not only hear great music but you’ll also learn a lot of history about the instrument and the musicians associated with it” — the show had to be as captivating as possible. So in adding various elements that would make it both be dramatic and educational, Kehr enlisted a few music industry super-veterans. “I spoke to [super manager] Steve Leber, telling him about the idea. Without a moment’s hesitation he signed on.” So co-producing the show with Kehr is the legendary Leber, who then brought in concert-promoter impresario John Scher in association with Live Nation.
With this team on board, the stage could then include three different pianos and an eight-piece band. Kehr’s “The Greatest Piano Men” swings into action with three high-profile premiere concerts which have been set for this month, the first on Wednesday, August 15 at NJPAC; Thursday, August 16 at the Capitol Theatre; and, Friday, August 17 at the NYCB Theatre in Westbury. In order to reach audiences, piano prodigies will be interviewed in advance of each show and there will be a series of radio-giveaways to fans a chance to jump on board early on.
Added the 50-something producer/creator, “A lot of the audience may not be as well-versed in piano history, but I’ve incorporated it into this brief lesson about the instrument’s enduring power. Nonetheless, this show is still a 90 minute rock ‘n roll celebration from start to finish.”
As a kid, Kehr was dancing and singing, doing Broadway before he could drive but he’s no stranger to rock and roll as well, having been in band with his brothers in ‘80s called Urgent. “Since I was 11, I was playing music; I learned four different instruments because my brothers are musicians, so I’d always watch them. By the time I was 21, we created a band, and were on EMI Manhattan Records. We actually had two videos out, and got to number 56 on the top Billboard in 1984. It was a song called ‘Running Back for More.’ We did pretty well.”
The slick-pated performer had already established his live show production career in 1993 by putting on the annual charity concert, “Rockers on Broadway” (initially with Pete Townsend) where Great White Way performers get to rock-out. Shows have included or paid tribute to such performers as Debbie Gibson, Monkee Micky Dolenz, radio-personality Bruce Morrow, Rupert Holmes, Paul Williams and Frankie Valli and many others.
And his roots to this current show also lie in a performing act he fronted, Donnie Kehr’s Rockin’ Dueling Pianos, which had been staged in Las Vegas at The Paris. “I actually debuted Dueling Pianos there in 2004. I love Vegas and the variety of acts they have are top-shelf. I got to return to Vegas with Jersey Boys which was perfect way to start a New Year back then.”
Well, based on the initial expectations and with such a substantial track record, “The Greatest Piano Men” looks to be on the scene for quite a while. “So what about ‘The Greatest Piano Women’ as well?” Upon being prompted by this question, Kehr replied chuckling, “Let me get this first production out there and then we’ll see — anything’s possible!”
The Glorious Corner
A CHER STEAL — This year’s 97th edition of the Macy’s Day Parade was a rather underwhelming one, save for Chicago – inexplicably singing “Your My Inspiration” – and the always, indefatigable Cher, singing a track “DJ Play a Christmas Song” off her new holiday-themed album. The first few bars will terribly auto-tuned, but that seemed to disappear and Cher’s vocals rang full and bold.
She was, typically, a pro. Mixing effortlessly and emotionally with the dancers in a terrific set. Some pundits reported the clip was shot days earlier, but she was live and, just sensational. I wish more of today’s performers possessed her vigor and skills. That’s why most of the current acts, here today, will be gone tomorrow.
As we went to press, we learned that this parade was Macy’s most-watched edition ever! Congrats.
HALL VS. OATES — Some terrible news appeared in Wednesday’s media that Daryl Hall had taken out a TRO against partner-John Oates. I’ve loved what these two have done for decades and I loved Hall’s solo albums; especially the one he did with Robert Fripp in 1977 Sacred Songs. His record company at the time (RCA) hated it so much, they held up its release for three years.
I also well remember them in the 80’s when it seemed you could’t turn on a radio without hearing their music. 29 of their 33 singles were major chart hits on Billboard. But I do go back to them even in the 70’s, with their terrific “She’s Gone” which basically launched them. And, my favorite album of their War Babies, produced by Todd Rundgren. Quick note: That album sounds as good and relevant as it did when it came out in 1974.
The problem seems to arise from Oates wanting to sell his portion of certain songs to Primary Wave Artists – which ironically owns several of their songs already. It’s a small point, but that seems to be the issue. In all actuality, it’s another case of a classic-rocker selling his music.
In Oates’ book several years ago (Change of Seasons: A Memoir), he hardly mentioned Hall and regrettably that animus has apparently reared its angry head. They’re Philly boys, I’m from Philly and it’s just an awful coda to what was one of music’s major success stories. Sad all around.
SHORT TAKES — Terrific article in this week’s Closer on Micky Dolenz. Check it out here: https://www.closerweekly.com/posts/micky-dolenz-on-telling-stories-on-stage-and-in-his-book/
btw: Dolenz tapes KTLA’s Countdown To 2024 this week in LA …
I first met Phil Quartararo in the lobby of the old Mondrian Hotel in LA with John Sykes and we struck up a friendship that lasted until he passed last week. He was at Virgin for a time and worked with the artists there including The Spice Girls and Paul Abdul. In these fast-changing-times in the music business, he remained somewhat behind the scenes of late, but admitted he missed working with the artists. Phil was a guy you never ever heard a bad word about. Huge loss. Here’s Billboard’s take on Phil:
… As you’ve not doubt read, there is trouble in the Marvel-comic kingdom. The latest Captain Marvel movie (The Marvels) didn’t perform nearly as well as everyone hoped for and their newest star, Jonathan Majors as Kang, is tied up in several court matters.
So, we hear that Kang is out and Doctor Doom is in. Stay tuned …
And Forbes’ James M. Clash has released Amplified; culled from his terrific interviews with the icons of rock ‘n roll; including Grace Slick; Art Garfunkel; Ginger Baker; Micky Dolenz; and Roger Daltry. Here’s the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CNJZYW2J?ref_=cm_sw_r_apan_dp_WKCSH7AC0ZTK18RZF4ED&language=en-US NAMES IN THE NEWS — Steve Leeds; Kate Hyman; Bono; Tom & Lisa Cuddy; Peter Abraham; Bobby Bank; Dina Pitenis; Frank DiLella; Donnie Kehr; Steve Leber; Don Wardell; Anne Adams; Billy Smith; John Boulos; Kimberly Cornell; Sam Rubin; Nexstar; and ZIGGY!
Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project and The Madison Square Park Conservancy Holiday Tree Lighting
Did you know the first public Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the country’s history took place in Madison Square Park? Celebrate the 111th anniversary of the first holiday tree lighting, with MSPC, the park community and neighborhood partners on December 6th from 4 – 6 PM
Enjoy this free joyful event with a photo op, baked-goods, and live music performances by acapella group, New York Life Singers, from New York Life Insurance Company and featuring guest vocalist Gabrielle Lee with Broadway Pianist and Musical Director, Alvin Hough Jr. in partnership with the Tin Pan Alley American Popular Music Project.
Know before you go:
- Giveaways while supplies last.
- No stroller parking is available so please consider leaving strollers at home if possible.
- Free and open to the public, no reservations are necessary.
Events For December
Cabaret, Talks and Concerts For December
Tis the season to be entertained. Here are picks:
92 Street Y: 1395 Lexington Ave. 12/2 – 4: Lyrics & Lyricists In the Key of Life: The Genius of Stevie Wonder. Led by Broadway’s Darius de Haas; 12/5: Recanati-Kaplan Talks Death, Let Me Do My Show: Rachel Bloom in Conversation and 12/14: Sharon Stone and Jerry Saltz Talk About Art.
Birdland Jazz: 315 West 44 St. Every Monday at 5:30 Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks and 9:30pm Jim Caruso’s Cast Party; Every Tuesday at 8:30pm The Lineup with Susie Mosher; Every Saturday at 7pm Eric Comstock with Sean Smith (Bass) & special guest Barbara Fasano (Voice); 12/11: Karen Mason for her annual Christmas show “Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!”; 12/12 – 16 Stacy Kent; 12/18: James Barbour returns to Birdland with his annual Holiday Concert: 12/21 – 25: “A Swinging Birdland Christmas” starring Birdland regulars Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch and 12/28 – 31: Marilyn Maye.
Cafe Carlyle: 35 E 76th St. 12/1 – 9: Sutton Foster; 12/12 – 16: Gavin DeGraw and 12/19 – 31: Michael Feinstein.
Carnegie Hall: 881 7th Ave at 57th St. 12/5: Christmas with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith; 12/6: Dee Dee Bridgewater with Sean Jones and the NYO Jazz All-Star Big Band; 12/13: Michael Feinstein and Jean-Yves Thibaudet and 12/22 – 23: The New York Pops The Best Christmas of All with Norm Lewis
Don’t Tell Mama: 343 W. 46 St.
Dizzys Club Coca Cola: Frederick P. Rose Hall, Broadway at 60th Street.
Christmas in Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting and Kelly Clarkson
The Christmas in Rockefeller Center special will air on NBC and Peacock at 8 p.m. ET on November 29, 2023 with the iconic Christmas tree lighting taking place at the end of the special.
The 2023 Christmas in Rockefeller Center special will be hosted by Kelly Clarkson, who will also be performing. Clarkson recently moved her talk show from Los Angeles to New York, where it shoots in 30 Rock. That makes her an obvious host for the tree lighting as it will be glowing right outside her office. Clarkson announced the new gig on her show on October 26, 2023.
Look for Cher!, Chloe Bailey, Adam Blackstone, Keke Palmer, David Foster, Katharine McPhee, Liz Gillies, Darlene Love, Seth MacFarlane, Barry Manilow, Carly Pearce and Manuel Turizo.
The Christmas at Rockefeller Center special will be available to watch on the NBC app, on NBC.com and on Peacock as well as NBC.
The tree is lit daily from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m. On Christmas Day, it’s lit for a full 24 hours and on New Year’s, it stays lit from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m.
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