|Miche Braden (right), Liz Filios, Joel Davel and Matt Spencer make up Rough Magic.|
How did you come to be a vocalist?
I've been around music all my life. I found that I could always express myself through singing, most times better than just talking. There was always a song that could express my feelings. If not, I could write one. Theatre was the perfect place for me to hone my talent. I had grown tired of feeling like a jukebox in the clubs and when I was asked to do theatre, I did not hesitate.
Who inspired you?
I have many mentors who inspired me and my music. Detroit, where I was born, had a plethora of amazing musicians that I worked with and studied under including Motown musician and leader of the Funk Brothers Earl Van Dyke and jazz master musicians Marcus Belgrave and Harold McKinney. My mother, Dr. Mildred J Dobey, was my main influence. Anything I wanted to do musically—including instruments, dance, sing and whatever else—she let me do. My uncle, Jim Hankins, also is a major influence. He's the reason why I play bass. He's the bassist in the other show that I do. Then there's Quincy Jones, my idol! He did music for everyone from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra, as well as film scores, television, big band and symphonies. That's what I want to do, as well as perform.
What were some of the challenges of working with Tom Waits’ music and Kenny Wollesen’s instruments?
Once I knew I had the gig, I really started listening to Tom Waits music. I wasn't a fan at first. That voice—jeez! Once I saw how the music merged with the play, I grew a major respect for him, his song lyrics and beautiful melodies. Kenny Wollesen was creating instruments for us as we rehearsed in Las Vegas. It was amazing what he could do with cast-out items that someone else would consider to be trash. And it all worked! I can't imagine anything else being used where we use his creations in the show.
What are some of the fun parts of this show?
The show was stressful at its inception, but it is a joy now that the hard part is done. I learn from watching; it was great watching Aaron [Posner] and Teller directing the actors as they created their characters; Johnny Thompson creating magic to fit into the story line; Matt Kent creating Caliban; Rough Magic, under Shaina Taub, creating arrangements, harmonies and sound effects with a mix of traditional instruments; and learning to play Kenny's creations. And I am thrilled with the new musicians we cast here as Rough Magic “2.0”—with band members Liz Filios, Matt Spencer and Joel Davel. They learned the show in four days!
Why does this particular production really resonate with people?
People love to be entertained. They want a full experience when going to the theatre, especially since it's live. The Tempest delivers on all fronts: classic Shakespeare, interpretation, music, laughter and magic. Audiences get more than their money’s worth!
What’s at the top of your playlist now?
I sing along to the Swingle Singers Jazz Sebastian Bach, Volume 1, to warm up my voice.
What’s up next for you after The Tempest?
My one woman show The Devil's Music: The Life & Blues of Bessie Smith, book by Angelo Parra and conceived by director Joe Brancato and I am music directing the show and have arranged all the music. We’re scheduled for a one-night performance at Kingsborough College in Brooklyn, a four-week run in Winnipeg at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Center in Canada and then a Blues Cruise. I've been doing the show almost 15 years and we haven't done a West Coast performance. I have too much fun doing it—I'd love to bring it to SCR! I'm also working on creating a show from my CD Diva Out Of Bounds and a cabaret show on Nina Simone, as well as other singer/pianist/ composing women.
If you had to choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be?
Actually, I'd have to use the most powerful two-word phrase there is: “I Am.” I wrote a song with that title, which says: “I've been walking around, learning the sound of my own heart. I've been moving my feet to the beat of my own heart. How can I follow anyone else? I've got to find it for myself. I can be anything I want to be. I can do anything that I believe. I AM!!”
I live by these words everyday. I plan on the world knowing my name through my works, and will never stop believing in myself and achieving my goals.