On Broadway: Behind the Red Curtain

The TEN Tenors producer D-J Wendt never really envisaged the group doing an entirely Broadway-themed show.

For starters, what’s a Broadway show with ten leading men and not a single leading lady? Secondly, if the Tenors aren’t singing the likes of Puccini, they’re singing Meatloaf and Queen – that’s the way it’s always been. Thirdly, ‘Broadway’, is synonymous with ‘kick-line’, and Wendt couldn’t ask that of his boys… Could he?

“Ironically, I used to say that I wasn’t a Broadway fan,” Wendt confesses. “It wasn’t until we started building the show and selecting the songs that I realized I was actually able to, in every single case, hum the entire tune, if not sing the words. There is a Broadway fan within!”

With literally thousands of Broadway musical songbooks to draw from, including 40 new musicals currently playing on Broadway, the song selection process presented Wendt and longtime music collaborator Steven Baker with one of their most difficult challenges in the group’s 16 year history.

“When we were setting up a selection criteria for the repertoire, the first eligibility requirement was that the songs had to be written specifically for Broadway, steering us away from jukebox musicals and film adaptations,” Wendt recalls, citing Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, The Sound of Music and West Side Story as classic examples.

“It wasn’t until we got down to the final stages of selection that we came to realize that there were some worthy contenders that actually originated in popular culture; shows like We Will Rock You, Jersey Boys and Spamalot.”

To Wendt’s surprise, it is these contemporary inclusions that have been bringing audiences to their feet during the group’s recent USA unveiling of the new show. “The Jersey Boys medley is far and away one of the most popular pieces in the show, as is Journey’s anthemic Don’t Stop Believin’ from the recent ‘80s jukebox musical Rock of Ages,” Wendt says. “They’re both a lot of fun.”

Asking Wendt to choose his personal favourite from the lineup is like asking him to choose a favourite child. Reluctantly, though, he divulges. “It would have to be Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’… I’m a sucker for Oklahoma!” Wendt says, admitting this song in particular revealed to him the immense popularity of the great American musical.

“Musical fans are intensely patriotic and passionate about Broadway; I wasn’t prepared for that at all,” he muses. “My first time hearing our version of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ performed in front of a full audience was, ironically, in Tulsa – the second largest city in Oklahoma. The response was amazing.

“Rob Barbaro was singing the lead and it was his very first show with the group on tour. He was visibly nervous, and the moment the music started, the audience physically took a gasp in anticipation,” Wendt remembers. “He only sang two words and there was almost a standing ovation. It was an incredible start for that song, an incredible start to the tour, and an incredible start for Rob as a new member of the group.”

Barbaro is one of three singers making his TEN Tenors debut in the new show, with New Zealand opera import Cameron Barclay and Melbourne music theatre performer Joseph Naim. Wendt couldn’t be more thrilled with the new additions.

“Rob has a quirky classical presence, an amazing sound and tone, and incredible warmth. He’s not a music theatre singer at all; he comes from a purely classical background.

“Cameron Barclay was an absolute find. He was the last new guy to be brought on, and we were introduced to him via a friend of a member of the existing group. He did his audition and interview via Skype, and we just got a great feeling about him. It’s turned out to be phenomenal.”

“With Joseph Naim, we were looking for a very specific music theatre voice type, and he was it. What we didn’t realize we were getting at the time was a consummate performer. He’s got so much energy, and so much vitality. He’s really injected a lot of fun into the group, on and off the stage.”

Wendt says assembling the right mix of personalities is crucial to the success of The TEN Tenors, and especially so for a Broadway show, where the storytelling is as vital as the singing.

“The best thing about the group is not only the diversity of voices, but the scope of interpretation that comes with ten unique personalities. Bringing together Rob, Cameron and Joseph with existing Tenors Benjamin Clark, Keane Fletcher, Paul Gelsumini, Scott Muller, Sebastian Maclaine, Jared Newall, and Ben Stephens, creates an electrifying mix.”

Following the group’s 62-venue tour of the USA, Wendt admits he is thrilled to see the boys return home to Australia for a major national tour.

“This show marks a big departure for us from the rockier side of classical crossover that has been the hallmark of our past three world tours. It is also the first time in the group’s history that they have done an entire show in English, Broadway is a brand new look for the boys. And boy does it suit!”

The spectacular response in the USA to On Broadway has led to another exciting development; the recording of a new album featuring a selection of songs from the show. “After road-testing the material and receiving overwhelming praise from American audiences, we decided we had to give into popular demand and ensure everyone could take home a memento from this show,” explains Wendt. “Steven Baker’s arrangements for this show are absolutely breathtaking, and among some of his greatest work for the group. We took time out from the US tour to spend a week in Pittsburgh recording ten tracks from the show and we’re delighted with the results.”

The Ten Tenors on Broadway: Volume One will be released exclusively in conjunction with the 2014 Australian Tour on May 23 through Warner Music.

Interview by Adam Brunes.