Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Conversation with Tim Hockenberry

When Tim Hockenberry opens his mouth to sing, you can usually count on all heads turning in his direction. This singer/songwriter has an astonishingly emotional voice, reminiscent of Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits. Long a staple of the Bay Area music scene, Tim was exposed to wider audiences when he recorded and toured with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, known particularly for singing their cover of the Savatage power ballad "Believe". After an album and four tours with TSO, Tim connected with Grateful Dead legend Mickey Hart, recording and touring the nation with his brand of freeform, hippie rock. And then in 2012, Hockenberry made a splash on the America's Got Talent television talent show, making it to the semi-finals.  As Tim is about to release his first solo album of all original music, he and I got together to discuss his amazing musical odyssey: his musical background, his love for jazz and the trombone, his time spent with TSO and Hart as well as the wonderful new songwriter's delight that is his new self-titled album.

Dan Roth: Tim, you are known in musical circles not just for your gravelly voice, but also for your keyboard and trombone playing.  Which came first?

Tim Hockenberry: The trombone.  I was born in upstate New York, but I didn't really get into doing anything musically until we moved to Michigan.  My Dad played the trombone - he played in a lot of Dixieland bands - and he threw one in my direction when I was about 12 years old.  I continued wrestling with that until I was about 16 and we moved to Minnesota.  It was then that I decided that I wanted to be an orchestral trombonist and started studying it seriously. I went to the University of Minnesota, going for a classical performance degree but also studying jazz while there. I had a really incredible teacher there who was also the principal trombonist with the Minnesota Orchestra. He got me a couple blind auditions in Detroit and Kansas City. It was there that I discovered just how competitive it was to score a position with a major orchestra - over 500 trombonists auditioning for these positions.

DR:  Wow. That's some great experience though. Did you do anything in the jazz world?

TH:  Actually, yes. Clark Terry, who is a legendary jazz trumpet player, came to my school. I was playing in the jazz band at the time, Clark hired me and a saxophonist from the jazz band and we hit the road, touring the Midwest USA in 1983.  We got on so well that he scheduled a year in Southern Europe and wanted to take us along. It was such an amazing opportunity. I was only 19 years old at this point. I had to quit school to make this happen. Unfortunately, two weeks before I was supposed to leave for Cork, Ireland, Clark Terry came down with a devastating pinched nerve in his spine and had to have back surgery.  When that tour fell through, it really devastated me. This was really my next step to making a living in music and being a professional trombone player.

DR:  That is disappointing, considering what a break it was to be touring with someone as legendary as Clark was.

TH:  Yeah, so I had already quit school and didn't have any housing so I got into the restaurant business, waiting tables to make money. That was kind of eye opening too - that there was a job that actually paid money!  Playing jazz is great but there was not a lot of money in it. [Laughs]  So while I was making a living waiting tables, I started playing in some funk bands in Minneapolis until my brother invited me to come live with him in Virginia.

DR:  Did you continue your musical path there?

TH:  No, I actually wanted to make a living and got into the serious restaurant business, working at this famous restaurant called The Inn at Little Washington for a few years. From there I eventually moved to New York and then New Jersey, waiting tables and pouring beer. My music had just stopped. I basically hadn't been involved in anything musical in about ten years.

DR:  Today, you are a pretty well-known musician in the Bay Area.  How did you wind up there?

TH:  A couple deadheads that I got to know while working in New Jersey wanted to move to California, and they asked me to drive one of their cars out there.  I loaded up my dog - I had a 160 lb. St Bernard Malamute - and all of my musical stuff and moved to California with these guys. I had planned to come back but wound up settling in Sonoma Valley. I got a really hot-shot waiting gig at Auberge du Soleil, which was a very fancy restaurant in the Napa Valley.

DR:  Were you doing anything musically at this point?

TH:  No, but I really wanted to get back into it. I actually went out and bought a trumpet.  I always wanted to learn trumpet, so I started spending some time with that, just to get back into music. I wound up bartending at this Irish bar in Napa Valley and they had really bad live music there. So on Halloween night, I dressed up like Michael Bolton and sang, "When a Man loves a Woman" with a small Casio keyboard.  I had never sang or played keyboard in front of anyone at that point, and I was almost 30 years old. 

DR:  Well considering your voice, that had to have surprised some there.

TH:  Yeah, I got a lot of love from that moment. It was like "Damn! The Bartender can sing!" [Laughs]  The next day the owner of the bar fired me and told me that he would rehire me to sing there instead.  I told him that I only knew like two songs and he told me that I had better learn some more. [Laughs] Then a couple of my regular customers that drank there all the time went out and bought me a full-sized keyboard!

That right there stopped my whole restaurant career in its tracks. I locked myself in a room and learned how to play keyboards and sing at the same time. So now, I had this new singing gig at the Irish bar and I started playing Sundays at this wonderful bakery owned by Alexis Handleman. Alexis didn't pay me, but she did feed me, which was major - I was literally a starving artist at that point. 

One thing led to another and I met a guitarist, formed a duo with him and started getting gigs around town. And from there I got into the society thing in Napa and San Francisco. That led to more gigs around San Francisco and forming a couple different bands. 

DR:  Sounds like a late start, but a start nonetheless, to a promising music career.

TH:  It did.  Except right around then I got married and we had two kids right away. For the next fifteen years or so, I continued to plug away and play the area but I stuck close to home to raise the family. That got me into my 40s.

DR:  I know at this point you had some regional success with a Christmas song, and had a couple independently-released solo albums under your belt.  Were you making a living with music?

TH:  I was scraping by. I performed in various clubs as a solo act, and sometimes with other musicians. I also got some guest spots working with people like Bonnie Raitt and Sammy Hagar when they needed some trombone. But that "Christmas by the Bay" was a song written by Clark Sterling and Nolan Gasser and it was attached to an entire album. The rest of the album was more Broadway style singing but this song wound up going viral on the radio and now every year it gets massive airplay on three big radio stations here.

DR:  Speaking of Christmas music, at what point did you hook up with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?

TH:  I'm a member of this Bohemian club in San Francisco. It's basically a men's art and music camp that gets together for three weeks every year. I was up there one summer, I was about 46 or so, and I met vocalist Kelly Keeling. Kelly was brought in as a guest and he and I really hit it off.  We did a couple gigs together and he asked me if I had ever heard of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he told me I should check them out. They are not my thing, as I am not into that sort of sanitized metal.

Six months later, he calls me and asks me to email some of my song files to [former TSO Talent Coordinator] Dina Fanai. I asked him what it was for and Kelly says that Paul O'Neil is recording this song called "Believe" and he wants someone that sings just like me. My first response was, "I'm an atheist. Does that matter?" [Laughs] and Kelly says "No, just send the files."
Tim with TSO - 4/21/10 - Detroit, MI
Photo Courtesy James Marvin Phelps

DR:  What did you send Dina?

TH:  I sent one of the songs that I had recorded recently. Paul heard it, got in contact and told me that he was emailing over a file of the backing track to "Believe" and he wanted to hear me sing the song over top of that. I didn't care for the demo that he sent; it sounded like everything was real synthetic and I had trouble singing over it. I sat down with my piano, played and recorded "Believe" and sent that back to him.  He sent a plane to come get me two days later.

DR:  To record the song?

TH:  Yeah. He flew me to Florida and we recorded "Believe". I think we did 140 takes in two weeks. [Laughs] Even after all of that, they went back and used the original recording that I did in my garage for the first half of the song.  That's what made it on to the finished record.  They then combined that with the parts that he liked for the second half of the song that I recorded in Florida.

DR:  I am sure you heard the original Savatage version sung by Jon Oliva before recording your version. Did Paul give you any particular direction when recording?

TH:  He just really let me do what I want, but I had to really honor the melody. I could not jazz it up it all. He really didn't want me to sound like Jon. He really wanted me to sound like myself. Frankly, I always thought Jon sounded like Al Stewart on that song. Paul wanted somebody with this gravelly voice to bulldoze his way through the song. I just followed Paul's lead on that. It was always "More stones, More gravel, More chest, More throat!" [Laughs] It was actually a really difficult studio session for me because this literally went on for 8 hours every day for two weeks.

DR:  So you never had an audition?

TH:  Those two weeks spent in the studio recording that song was my audition.  I never auditioned for anybody.

DR:  This was in 2008. Did you sign on for the tour at that point as well?

TH:  No. I really didn't want to do the tour. Paul paid me well for the recording and I flew back to California. A few weeks later, one of their managers calls and asks me if I will head out on tour with them. He made it sound really good - "You only have to sing one song, maybe some backing vocals, comfortable bus, this much money a week. But you are out for three months." I was like, "Three months? That's all the holidays right there away from my kids." At this point, I had a little girl along with my two boys.  

DR:  Pretty tempting though. TSO was at it's height of touring popularity around this time.

TH:  Yeah. They also kept on promising how they were going to do real radio promotion for the song and use my name and really blow the song and my name up big. Their manager kept assuring me that they were going to do things for me that they had never done for any other artist on the tours. None of that ever happened. All they did was the early morning radio to promote the tour and get people to buy tickets.

DR:  They did run an online video contest for it.  Were you involved with that at all?

TH:  No.  They were very careful not to put my name anywhere but on the very inside of the liner notes of the record. [Laughs]  Trans-Siberian Orchestra is very much like Disneyland. As a performer, you are kind of like Donald Duck. No one knows who you are and they keep you in the shadows. They want 'The Show' to be the star - the lights and the fire.

DR:  Did you enjoy the tours? Their music is much different than what you had been performing up until this point.
Tim with TSO - 12/13/08 - East Rutherford, NJ
Photo courtesy Jean L. Scrocco

TH:  The first year was fun.  I had a blast. Luckily, I had let my hair grow out - they are all about hair - so that definitely helped. I had fallen in love with the violinist they had at the time. We had a real good time, but then I found out that she falls in love with a different person every tour. [Laughs]  But then I did another tour and another tour and I was not getting along well with the guys from Savatage at all. They all really disliked me because I was out there singing a song that was sacred to them.  To them, it was Criss Oliva's song and Jon Oliva was the only one with the license to sing it.  To make matters worse, Paul loved me and my voice and he would always make a big deal about me when he would come to a show. The Savatage guys were kind of resentful towards me.  Plus I didn't fit their idea of a metal rocker, which I clearly wasn't and didn't aspire to be. [Laughs]  They tried to metal me up, but I wasn't really having it. I really don't gravitate to that sort of music.  I'm all about R&B , Soul and Jazz.  But I definitely did what Paul wanted done on the song. I wasn't taking any liberties.

I enjoyed the Beethoven's Last Night tour the most. Bob Kinkel wrote so much amazing music for that album and tour. And the singers - Chloe Lowery just tore it up. And Rob Evan - they were both fantastic.

DR:  Sounds like you at least had a good relationship with Paul. 

TH:  Yeah and Jon Oliva. Paul was always nervous that I would say the wrong thing. We would do live radio, they would have us introduce ourselves and I would say something like "Hi I'm Tim and I'm an alcoholic."  [Laughs]  Everyone would laugh but I hear Paul would cringe when he heard it.

DR:  Besides "Believe", you recorded three other songs for TSO: "Sparks" which was on Nightcastle. "Someday" which wound up coming out later on the Dreams of Fireflies EP and they also had you re-record "Dream Child".  Any special recollections from those sessions?

TH:  I never got "Someday". It seemed like such a dirge to me. It was actually hard for me to do. It was really out of my range. When I sing, it sounds like I have this big low range, but it's not there. I'm a first tenor. Paul wrote that so low for me. I hear Kayla Reeves does a great job with it on tour.

DR:  Why was "Dream Child" re-recorded with you on vocals?

TH:  I asked the same question. The singer on the original (Joe Cerisano) sounds great! Paul gets on these trips of "Lets repackage this and send it back out".  They had me sing it live at a few shows in 2010.  I was very nervous performing it live; it was really difficult to memorize that one.


DR:  Sparks is one of my favorite songs off of their Nightcastle album.

TH:  Sparks was a lot of fun. And that high 'D' on the record - that scream - is Jon Oliva, not me. I could not hit that note. Anything more than a high 'A' and I am done. But Oliva came in and crushed it. He still has it.

DR:  So after those four tours, did you leave on your own?

TH:  It was somewhat mutual, I think. During the last tour I was on, in 2010, things were getting really tense between me and some of the other guys on the tour and it just wasn't enjoyable. I went to Adam Lind, their manager, and expressed my concerns. He convinced me to finish out the tour and told me that we would talk again in the Spring.  I never heard from him again, which was totally fine by me.

DR:  Are you bitter at all with your experience working for them?

TH:  Definitely not bitter. For the most part it was a pretty good time. I did get to experience a major tour and sing in some nice-size arenas and the fans were great. There were just some things along the way that were very disappointing to me, however, and the music itself really isn't in my wheelhouse.

DR:  And from there, you hooked up with Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart?

TH:  Yeah, I helped him finish his album and we toured the US.

DR:  You are all over that Mysterium Tremendum album.  I really enjoyed that.

TH:  It's a cool record! My buddy Ben Yonas produced it. We had a lot of fun putting that together. Then we hit the road and had a blast touring that record. We had a great band. Gawain Mathews joined us on guitar - he is a genius. Eighty-percent of that tour was really fun, Twenty percent was a nightmare. Talk about the opposite of Trans-Siberian Orchestra! No catering ever, the bus slept 12 and we had 14! [Laughs]

DR:  But musically you were much more involved and it seemed to fit you a bit better.

TH:  Yeah, and we had so much fun.  I told Mickey I wanted to play trombone on the tour. He said, "You can play trombone as long as it never sounds like a trombone!" [Laughs] So I bought a pedal rig for it, so every time I picked up my trombone it sounded like a spaceship landing. [Laughs]

DR:  I noticed that you co-wrote about half of the album. With Robert Hunter writing all of the lyrics, where did you fit in?

TH:  We would all get in a room together as a group and threw stuff against the wall and see what stuck. It's the kind of music where you can do that. We weren't a bunch of hired guns to perform Mickey's music - we were a band that collaborated.

DR:  One song that always stands out to me is one that you co-wrote, "Let there be Light". It's only four minutes or so on the album, but you really would stretch it out on tour.

TH:  I really like that one too.  "Cut the Deck" is another that I was very fond of.  I really liked doing that tour for the most part. Mickey's one rule was that there were no rules, so we got to try a lot of different things and nothing ever sounded the same twice.

DR:  Now having recorded and done some nationwide tours with Mickey Hart and TSO, what did you take away from those experiences that help you going forward?

TH:  I learned how to really go on tour; how to live out of a suitcase. I also learned how to preserve my voice. Some of Mickey's concerts would go on for three hours so I learned how to pace myself vocally.

DR:  I would like to switch gears and ask about your appearance and run on America's Got Talent. What led you to going on that show?

TH:  I never thought about going on there, to be honest. I always felt I was too old for something like that. I got a call from Natasha Miller, who is now my manager, and she offered me a VIP slot to audition for the show. I had no interest but my 9-year-old daughter, Lola, told me, "This show is the one that takes old people." [Laughs]. So I told Lola that I would do it if she came with me. We went down to the Bill Graham Auditorium and we were ushered into this room with 12 people sitting there.  They asked me to sing something, so I asked Lola what I should sing. She said sing "You are so Beautiful". I sang that with her sitting by my side. Things just sort of progressed from there. They kept moving me on through the audition process over several weeks. I knew things were getting serious when they started filming me backstage and asking me about my background.

DR:  The running storyline that they kept pushing each week was that you were almost 50 and a recovering alcoholic. No mention of your prior work at all.

TH:  During interviews, I mentioned to them that I had times where I was in rehab and worked through it. The producers told me to continue talking about that and to make that my backstory. At the time, I wasn't drinking, so I went with it.

DR:  As you appeared each week, you certainly had the support of many TSO fans who were actively promoting your appearances. However, there was quite a loud faction of TSO fans on social media that felt you shouldn't have been on there since weren't an amateur and you had already been successful by touring with TSO.

TH:  Successful? Where's my mansion? Where's my big car? Doesn't some sort of financial security come along with being successful? [Laughs] I get where they were coming from though because I have had some success compared to most musicians in the world. Compared to the successful ones though? No. I certainly had not achieved any fame behind my name, but the show wanted to promote this rags to riches story.

DR:  I know you only got 90 seconds for each performance, but did you ever consider singing "Believe" on the show?

TH:  I actually did. It would only be the front half of the song, and not singing the back half would be a little weird to me. Also, I was a little resentful. TSO lured me into their show with all of these promises about how much they were going to promote that song and me as the vocalist. Since they never did their job, why should I turn around and promote their song to 14 million viewers? In retrospect, it might have been smart - there are many TSO fans out there.

DR:  Did you ever tire of the Joe Cocker references?

TH:  I get it - we have similar style voices. But I don't think I sound a thing like Joe Cocker. I knew when I sang "You Are So Beautiful" the kind of comparisons that were coming. Billy Preston wrote that song and sang it first. But as soon as anyone hears someone that remotely sounds like Joe Cocker sing it, those are the only comparisons you hear. They kept bringing it up. That was a struggle to overcome that every week.

DR:  Were you enjoying yourself through the process? You made it to the semi-finals. Were you getting excited about winning?

TH:  I was until I finally read the contract that I had signed. The contract states that if you win, they own you for seven years. You are signed to work for them in Las Vegas, six nights a week, for $1000 a week. They own 75% of all of your publishing retroactively for ten years. I talked to my lawyer about it and he told me that I need to get off the show. [Laughs] At this point I certainly had the competitive spirit and wanted to win, but not at that cost.  So for the next song, I chose John Lennon's "Imagine". The first line is "Imagine there is no heaven", which right there should kill most of the Midwest vote. I knew it would not go over well because of that first line and I wanted to be voted off the show, and that's what we did. I was happy about that.

DR:  That was a great performance though, with Dave Eggar on cello.

TH:  Yeah, we tried a couple different versions. I flew my guitar player out and he was going to play with us as a trio. Then we tried something really stripped down with just me singing to the cello. The producers stepped in and said they wanted me to play the keys also, so I agreed to that. We wound up doing this really minimalist arrangement. I was so nervous - if you listen to the first note that comes out of my mouth, it is out of tune.

DR: You have a new self-titled solo album that is all original material. I know you have had a couple previous albums that consisted mostly of cover tunes. What made you want to release a record of all of your original songs?

TH:  My manager, Natasha Miller, was encouraging me to release a new album and she was pushing me to write some new songs. I was going through a really bad breakup at the time with my girlfriend and I sat down and wrote a couple songs about that. I also had been writing another song about the relationship I had with my ex-wife.  In addition, I had a few songs that I had written while on tour with TSO. I had a couple songs that I wrote with James Lewis but they didn't make the cut for this album. 

DR:  Did you record the album in the Bay Area?

TH:  Yes.  I recorded the whole album with Justin Miller, Natasha's incredibly talented brother. We did the whole album in his apartment.  I was pretty much hands-off. I would come in and play the piano or sing the vocal track and Justin would sculpt the whole thing. He is an amazing musician and I am so impressed with the job he did on this record. He brought in some musicians he knows from Nashville and the Bay Area and it really came together well.

DR:  How is this album different from your previous solo releases?

TH:  Well my first album, Pennies from Heaven, is a straight jazz record. I had hired this great jazz band called The Blue Room Boys that played jazz classics from the '20s and '30s and were fantastic. I sang and added trombone.  We recorded a bunch of classic jazz tunes and t
he whole thing took eight hours from start to finish.

My second record was Mostly Dylan, an album of mostly Bob Dylan's music that I did with Tom Corwin and Bonnie Raitt's band. My favorite track from that record was a song called "My Back Pages", which is a song that I wrote for my son who was being picked on at school.

My next record was Back in Your Arms with George Daly, who was a major record industry executive. It's a long story but we were supposed to be signed to a major label for this one but things wound up falling through.  I recorded it entirely in my basement. George Marinelli from Bonnie Raitt's band came in and played most of the guitar work on there and did a great job. I really liked this album; it was a mix of cover songs that I enjoyed playing and a few originals.

Then my last record was The List, which is all cover tunes. That was sort of a boutique thing, where my friends from the Bohemian club helped fund that.  It didn't have a label behind it; we just released it as a download.  I think my favorite track from that album was the remake I did of Billy Joel's "And So it Goes".

DR:  You mentioned some of your favorite tracks from your previous albums. Do you have a favorite song on the new album?

TH:  I really like "Little Angel". I love what Justin did with that one.

I really like another song on there called "I've Got Nothin (Better To Do)". That song came about from one day I called my manager and asked her if she was busy. She said, "Now Tim, You know I've got nothing better to do than you."  That was such a great line that I went and wrote a song from that.

"This Time By Me" is a song that was on my Back in Your Arms album that I wanted to remake. I was never happy with the way it came out on that album and then a couple years ago my co-writer on that, Tim Johnson, passed away. It's a great song that I wanted to be re-recorded and Justin did a great job on that.

DR:  Tell me about "Carrying You", which really stands out on the album and is a favorite of mine.

TH:  Each year before I would leave for TSO rehearsals, my daughter and I would pack up a bike with sleeping bags, ride up Mt. Tamalpais and we would spend a night in up in these cabins at the top of this mountain.  In 2009, after we spent the night up there, I took her to school and then flew to Omaha for rehearsals. I wrote "Carrying You" while on tour that year with TSO, thinking about carrying her up that mountain. I try to stay away from corny, heartfelt, human-interest songs, but this one just sort of fell out of me while I was on the tour bus. I left right before Halloween and came back right after New Year's.  That was rough as I was thinking of her that tour.

DR:  There are two songs on the album that you co-wrote with your sons. "Me and You", written with Maxx is a great album opener.

TH:  Maxx and I wrote that on Christmas Day 2012. He was having some relationship problems and I suggested we write a song about it. Within an hour, we had finished the song and we put it up on YouTube - just he and I on guitars and Maxx singing it. 

When I went to record it for this album, Maxx originally had sung the second verse. We wound up taking it out though and replacing it with mine. His voice is so remarkably different from mine that it sounds a little out of left field on there. The mandolin on here is played by Gawain Mathews, from Mickey's band.

DR:  I love the line in there "We're just an ordinary version of a complicated situation"

TH: [Laughs] I think that's his line. He is such a brilliant songwriter but he doesn't want to do that for a living. He has more sense than I do. [Laughs]

DR:  "If the Sky Was to Fall" was written with your son Jack?

TH:  Yes. I wanted to call it "Down on You", but got shot down. That could imply something else entirely. [Laughs] Jack wrote about eighty percent of the song. He wrote the lyrics and the melody. I wrote the bridge. That song sort of just fell out of him. He has a pretty cool sense of melody.

DR:  Any plans to tour to promote the record?

TH:  I'm not sure. If something breaks, then yes. Our strategy is that we are going to shop it hard not just to radio but also to Hollywood for movie soundtrack placement. I wrote mostly about relationships on this album - relationships with my daughter, with my girlfriend, with my ex-wife.  There is a lot that could fit into the Hollywood world.

DR:  Thanks for taking the time for this, Tim.

TH:  Thank you!  Enjoy the new album!

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Conversation with Bart Shatto

Over the last two decades, Actor/Singer Bart Shatto could be found in many places: Carnegie Hall, National tours of Broadway shows, Disney cartoons, major motion pictures, the Broadway Stage itself, and even in an Old City Bar. Hailing from Peoria, Illinois, Shatto has climbed the ladder, performing in Tony-nominated Broadway shows and the acclaimed yearly tours of the rock theater Trans-Siberian Orchestra production. With TSO, Bart brought his keen sense of theatricality to their stage and created an iconic character that millions of their fans adore. Bart continues to hone his craft and reinvent himself as he prepares to head out on his eleventh national tour with TSO. He and I met over lunch and talked at length about his varied career, and what he calls "the best job he has ever had".

Dan Roth:   Bart, Let's kick this off by talking about your background. Today you are well known both as an actor and a singer. Did you always want to be an entertainer?

Bart Shatto:  Ever since I was two years old, I wanted to be an actor. I was highly influenced by movies. Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, Robert Redford was my favorite actor. Musically, I was influenced by singers like Bob Seger, Michael McDonald, and John Cougar Mellencamp. Also Gary Richrath from REO Speedwagon came from my hometown and I loved their music. Most influential though was Dan Fogelberg, who also came from my hometown. My aunt used to babysit him in fact. I am highly influenced by his voice and his songwriting style. Take the albums where he collaborated with flutist Tim Weisberg - they just explored different genres of music, just fantastic stuff. He was someone that I looked up to and felt "I want to be that guy!". I never wanted to be a Broadway actor. I really wanted to act in TV or film and to be a singer fronting a rock band. But then musical theater kind of took over and my aspirations to front a rock band went by the wayside.

DR:  I had read that when you were in high school, you were spotted by a talent scout to read for the role of the "The Geek" in the The Breakfast Club.

BS:  Yes. I read with John Hughes in Chicago. I was 16 years old and in Chicago with my Aunt, my mom, and my brother for a big combined audition thing for different theaters and I was spotted by a scout for that role. They gave me parts of the script, where the character breaks down and talks about committing suicide. I am sitting there with John Hughes and he is giving me notes and I take a pen off of his desk and start writing down these notes. I read the scene a couple times and I was done, so I go downstairs and my mom asks me how it went. I said, "I don't know, but I think I stole John Hughes' pen." [Laughs]

DR:  [Laughs]

BS:  It was such a surreal thing.  It was a cool opportunity.

DR:  You got serious with acting in high school and college?

BS:  Yeah, I went to college for theater but dropped out after the third year to work professionally.

DR:  I know you appeared in such musicals as Cats, Les Miserables, and The Civil War.  Was there anything that you considered to be your big break into this world?

BS:  I worked with Jim Caruso as part of a musical comedy trio known as Wiseguys. With Wiseguys, we played Carnegie Hall with Rosemary Clooney.  This was my entre into the world of Cabaret in New York. That is where I was introduced to people like Michael Feinstein and Liza Minnelli, so Wiseguys was an important step. But my big breaks were The Civil War and Les Miserables.

DR:  Do you have a favorite role of all those that you have done?

BS:  Valjean would be my favorite.

DR:  Which role has been the most musically and physically challenging?

BS:  Valjean was definitely the most challenging, every which way. I think Jekyll and Hyde was just as hard though.

DR:  What do you look for in a role?

BS:  I look for a character who is going on some sort of journey. A journey of finding himself - good, bad, ugly, whatever.  I am interested in those characters with an anvil on their back and a dark past, trying to find light.

DR:  Do you prefer roles that have a singing component?

BS:  Not necessarily.

DR:  I was thinking of your role in the recent motion picture, Freedom. Your character is singing "I'm on my way to Canaan's Land".

BS:  Yeah. Well, that was a real sacred song that was sung in those days. That was me singing and I also did the high harmonies on that. It was great fun to get to sing and record that song for the movie, but it wasn't essential to my desire for the role.

DR:  Carving out three months of the year for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra position must present some real challenges in securing a role in a Broadway show or touring production.

BS:  Yes it can. [Laughs]  I have lost a couple agents over me being in TSO because they don't like me being gone during pilot and episodic season. The fact that I am gone for such a long period of time makes managers and agents very angry.

DR:  I have seen you in plays and musicals during TSO's "off season". Can you describe what the rest of the year is like for you?

BS:  I audition for regional theater, television, film, and Broadway.

DR:  Now if you get further along in the Broadway call backs...

BS:  I have to make a tough decision. This actually came up this year, as the creative team for a show that is coming to Broadway next season wanted to see me and I had to say, "no".  So, yes, I have had to make some compromises while working for TSO. It's very difficult in the Broadway world.

DR:  Speaking of TSO, let's dive in a bit to your long history with them.  We know you came aboard the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour in 2002, joining the West cast and taking over for John Margolis. John sang the original "Old City Bar" on the record and then sang it live. Did you ever get to meet with him?

BS:  Never met him.

DR:  Did you listen to his original recording before auditioning?

BS:  I did. I love "Old City Bar" so much because it reminds me of Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" and I love Croce's music.

DR:  I know this was early on, but did you go through an audition process to land this role?

BS:  I did. They had me sing "Old City Bar "and "Ornament". It was a unique audition for me, as it was held in this dimly lit recording studio. At first, all I had to sing was "Old City Bar". I literally had it in front of me on a music stand with a light shining on it. The only two people there were Paul O'Neill in his dark glasses and Taro Meyer, the other producer that was working there at the time and I could barely even see them.  They played the track and I got into the zone and sang the song, loving every moment of this. When I was done, Paul says "That was fucking God" which is an expression he often uses. He says "I believe that your soul just spoke to my soul when you just sang that.".  I was like "Who is this guy and what is he saying to me?" [Laughs] I was kind of taken aback by the response. I was just singing the song as Bart, but I was interpreting it. It was by far the strangest audition that I ever had.

DR:  Was this when they had a casting director to find talent?

BS:  Yes! They had hired Dave Clemmons to be the TSO casting director and he had cast me in my first Broadway musical, The Civil War.  Dave was casting a lot of Broadway shows, a lot of Frank Wildhorn's stuff, so Dave had this arsenal of some of the best rock/Broadway singers in New York. He knew all of these singers. They wanted a rock singer who had a sense of theatricality about them and that is why Dave brought me in.

DR:  Were you familiar with Trans-Siberian Orchestra before this audition?

BS:  I knew the name, but didn't know what it was. I worked with Michael Lanning in The Civil War and he would tell me how he was going on the road with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I remember thinking "What the heck is that? You're going to Transylvania? Siberia? To perform?" [Laughs]. Michael would talk about this thing every year and how much fun he was having. And then my friend Rod Weber tells me that he was going on tour with them too. I am hearing that it's rock music with an orchestra but the music is all Christmas? It sounded like the most ridiculous thing in the world to me, until I got called in for it.

DR:  So you had already worked with Michael Lanning and Rod Weber.  Were there any other folks from TSO that you had worked with earlier?

BS:  I had done a reading of a musical version of Joan of Arc with Rob Evan. I knew of Rob from Jekyll & Hyde and how amazing he was. Rob came up to me during the workshop after hearing me sing and told me, "You're going to play Valjean one of these days".  This was in 1997 and at that point I hadn't been seen for Les Mis yet. Three years later I was playing Valjean on Broadway. That's one thing about Rob - he is the most giving and supportive guy. He has climbed that ladder but he is always willing to lend a hand and help people up. I also worked with him in the The Civil War production in Gettysburg.

DR:  Margolis used to perform Old City Bar in the tux that everyone was wearing. Did you go right into going method with it and adopting the persona and costume of the character?

BS:  No, it didn't start off that way. That came about from my fear of being fired. It was a complete gut reaction of fear. This was back when we were rehearsing in the studios in Connecticut and I was singing it the way Bart would sing it.  It wasn't working; it wasn't landing. I knew it wasn't working and no one was happy. Paul finally suggested, "What if we put him in costume?".  That's all Paul had to say, so I decided to create this character. He was an old jazz musician that was washed up and now living on the streets. He wasn't schizophrenic but he was homeless and I played him much older as well. After Paul's suggestion, I went to Salvation Army and picked up a coat and some things and dressed as this character and went to catering. I went through the line, got food and everything and no one recognized me. I then got up and sang the song as this character and it finally landed.

Bart Shatto  - December 2010
Photo Courtesy Cindy Wagner
I knew I was really on to something here. It eventually morphed in to this whole "Gerald McNally" thing and the schizophrenic idea. (Vocalist) Maxx Mann came up with that name. We had this whole idea that Gerald lived in the bay of the bus, touring with the group. He was sort of the mascot for TSO. Gerald was really just a byproduct of my fear of being fired. I was panicked and I had to create something really quick. I had no idea then that it would turn out so incredibly cool and iconic with the TSO fans.

DR:  Was that whole experiment of you going through catering as the character what led you to start going out in the arena for what you guys eventually referred to as the "pre-show"?

BS:  Yeah. I would be outside the arena or in the concourses, picking through garbage. It got a little weird when people started giving me money though.  I was not accepting money but people would give it to me anyway. My character's goal was to go through the garbage cans and gather up as many bottles as I could, so I get something to eat. Sometimes it was like parting the Red Sea, as the fans would just move to either side of me because they were so disgusted by my appearance. I would often get kicked out of the arenas from the complaints, but I always had my cell phone on me so I could get let back in.

DR:  The fans would ask security to throw you out?

BS:  Yes. And Michael Lanning of course. [Laughs]  Michael used to take great joy in getting me thrown out of the arenas. I would hear him call security over and say "What's that homeless guy doing here? I can't perform with him around here, he smells." and security would completely apprehend me and throw me out. [Laughs] He loved doing that.

But seriously, to be treated like that as a human being was really tough on my soul after a while. I remember calling my wife at the time, telling her that I couldn't handle doing this anymore. She would always tell me what a wonderful thing it was that I was doing, holding a mirror up to society. When I went up on stage and the fans realized who I was, it was a really great lesson. She would always advise me to keep doing what I was doing. It was an interesting human experiment that I was trying to create. It all stopped after a show in Las Vegas where a fan there gave me money, saw me later on stage, and then called the TSO offices complaining that we were pulling a scam. It bothered me because at that time, I would take the money that people would try to give me and we were using it to buy gifts for the kids at St. Jude. Sadly, that all came to an end after that complaint because TSO did not want fans to get the wrong idea, and I totally understand that.

DR:  None of this was happening with the East Coast touring troupe, and Steve Broderick who was singing the song for them.

BS:  No, this was all me.  I like doing these things which are super risky. Being in character and seeing how people react in these situations was something that I enjoyed doing.

DR:  Did you work with Steve Broderick or the others who came after him in developing that character for the East?

BS:  I worked a little with Steve in the end days, hoping to impart what I could.

DR:  Was it a challenge to get into character for the pre-show and then back into the tux for singing backing vocals, then back into the costume for "Old City Bar"?

BS:  Singing backing vocals before "Old City Bar" stopped when I started the pre-show. I started doing the pre-show before the audience started coming into the arenas. I would prep around 6:00 and start the pre-show around 45 minutes before the start of the show. I would be out there until the first or second song and then I would come back in, so they allowed me to stop doing the background singing. So I would literally be doing the pre-show for 45 minutes while in character and then stay in costume until I would come out and do Gerald for "Old City Bar".

DR:  There was a tour or two where you sang a portion of the song with Al Pitrelli, harmonizing on a verse. Can you talk about that and why that stopped?

BS:  Paul took that away. That went against the template that had been set for this song. I loved singing it with Al. I loved that kind of camaraderie in the song. I thought Gerald was nothing without Al being there and singing with him brought Al as a character into the scene. It gave Al more to do and made him more of an active participant, but Paul changed it one year to being just single solitary me. He wanted the spotlight to be on me and the song. He was going back to his original template and the basics.
Bart Shatto and Al Pitrelli - December 27, 2005  Minneapolis, MN
Photo Courtesy Brian Reichow

DR:  Do you approach "Old City Bar" as an acting role or vocal performance?

BS:  It is one of the only theatrical moments in the show and that's what makes it stand out to be so iconic. I think people want that. I think people are looking for a break in the show and this is the only intimate number. It's a moment where it is just acoustic guitar and very theatrical at the same time. It is a real defining moment because it is such a departure from the rest of the show and that is what makes it so interesting and unique.  Could there be more theatricality in the show? Yes.  I think that comes in with the flames and the lights.

But as far as that number itself, I will always first and foremost be a singer. That blending of acting and singing is what I do best and is sort of my "super power". I take great pride in commingling the acting and singing - a lot of people can't do it and I take great pride in being able to pull it off so well. That moment is a wonderful opportunity to really display my talents at their best.

DR:  Have you ever felt out of place being the only performer dressed in character on the stage?

BS:  Yes. I think I have always felt like an outsider within the group and as a performer. I don't think it's a bad thing. In the end, we're all outsiders and I feel like I represent that. The core of people that are attracted to TSO are kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys [Laughs] and Gerald is like the king of them. So it definitely represents how I feel being part of the band - I feel blessed but I feel like an outsider that doesn't really belong. I like to immerse myself in a character so I don't have to be "Bart" because Bart doesn't feel like a star. I like to hide behind the character a bit. Doing "Dream Child" was tough because I was out there as me.
Bart Shatto  - December 2014
Photo Courtesy Cindy Wagner

I don't feel like a cool rock star when I am on that stage.  I let the rock stars act that way. [Laughs] I am a bit starstruck of some of these performers like Jeff Scott Soto who have built their careers as a rock star. We are really a melting pot, blending together all of these "misfits", doing what we do best, mixed together to create something fresh and new and innovative.

Taking that two year hiatus (2012-2013) and returning makes me feel even more blessed. Being able to go on that stage and perform for 8,000 people when most of year I am performing in small black box stages for less than a hundred people is a blessing. They understand the passion that I have for the music and for what I am given to do. Paul is taking this song that he wrote and handing it to me as a gift, basically saying, "Here, I wrote this. Now use your talents to interpret this.".

DR:  I understand that over the 11 years that you have toured with the TSO Show, you only missed one.

BS:  Yes. I broke my ribs while on tour and I missed a show.  Tommy Farese filled in and sang "Old City Bar". To this day, Tommy brings that up with me and reminds me how "his version" was the way to go. [Laughs]

DR: "His version" was done at a quicker tempo than you do.

BS:  Well, it is slowed down in concert. All of the music is slowed down in the Show. I think Paul wants that music savored. He wants everyone to listen to every note and for it to be a real live experience, not a carbon copy of what people listen to on the CD. He wants that music slowed down for effect. Everything Paul does has an effect.and has a meaning and you can't question it. It may seem insane to people, but he has a very specific idea of why he is doing it.

DR:  You mentioned "Dream Child" earlier, which is the song that you performed on the 2014 tour.  Can you talk a bit about that?

BS:  I really felt that "Dream Child" was the best song of the set. I don't mean that egotistically; I feel it is one of the best songs that he has written. I really didn't feel that I get the best reaction/result from the song, but I still firmly believe in the song as an integral part of what TSO is. Like "Old City Bar", I love the journey that this man in the song takes.  Maybe because it's more of a spiritual journey that I am interested in as an artist and as a person. This song is about making choices that don't serve you and hurting other people, which I can relate to in my personal life. It really came along at an interesting time, as I was going through some things in my life where I was looking at friendships that I have and people that I have hurt in my life, and here is this song that I was asked to do which really tied in to what I was going through.

DR:  And once again, you were on stage bringing that character to life. It seemed to evolve as the tour went on, as you added a pseudo military look with the jacket and the pants tucked into combat boots.  Even your vocal delivery seemed to evolve a bit.

BS:  Yes, I explored that more on the road as Al had suggested that we needed to make the song more interesting from a physicality standpoint. I started watching a Peter Gabriel concert video and drew a lot of influence from that. I know not everyone understood what I was doing, but everything I did - from removing the jacket and taking off the dog tags - all had a meaning. 

DR:  So you are still given some artistic freedom and leeway to develop the character?

BS:  Yes, as long as it's honest. As an actor, you have to be true to the text of the playwright and also true to the character's objective. And in this case you also have to be true to Paul's vision. We get plenty of time at the rehearsals in Omaha to work on things. I love being in a room with Paul, Jon and Al and listening to their stories of where they want this thing to go. You have to find your character within the parameters of that world.

As far as creativity is concerned, yes. It depends on what you are allowed to get away with. I like to push the buttons from a creativity standpoint. I've done strange things with "Old City Bar" where I get out a lawnchair and sit down  or I am unpacking a bag, and Paul hated it. [Laughs] I went for comedy bits where I pulled out aerosol spray under the arms and I was pulled back. I am notorious for pushing the parameters and I like pushing the envelope. I always had that bottle with me. Al Pitrelli and I created that little interaction where I would offer him a swig from the bottle. I used to smoke on stage as well, until the fire codes changed and they had to cut that part.

DR:  That is sort of ironic. You can't smoke a cigarette on stage but they can shoot these giant flames right behind you. [Laughs]

BS:  Exactly. [Laughs]

DR:  I understand you were given that song quite some time before the 2014 tour.

BS:  Yes.  They were looking at that song for the Lost Christmas Eve tours (2012-2013) and I had been working on it for quite some time. There was one incarnation in particular that I did was when I was at the Residence Inn after Hurricane Sandy. We were evacuated from our home, so we were staying at this hotel. I was doing Skype sessions with Danielle Sample, where she would coach me and we would tape my performances. The take that I did in that hotel room on Skype is the one that Paul says is the topography for the perfect "Dream Child". Keep in mind that I am working in this hotel room, wearing sweats and without a mic - but that take is what Paul saw and what he wanted for the show.

DR:  So the original thought was to have you performing this song for the Lost Christmas Eve tour?

BS:  Yes, but at the last minute they decided that there were too many ballads. I was told just before the tour that they weren't going to be using me or the song. I was disappointed, but I understood. That's when I booked my Broadway show (Hands on a Hardbody) and my film (Freedom) because I suddenly didn't have TSO to lean on and I got to work.

DR:  Robin Borneman sang "Dream Child" with the East Coast cast. Did you two work together at all?

BS:  Robin had a completely different interpretation than I did, and Paul loved his as well. Our voices are completely different. We rehearsed together side by side in this small studio with Paul, Jon, Al and Danielle. He would get up and do it, then I would get up and do it. I was nervous because here I am singing a new song for the first time in ten years, but I knew my version had set the template. But then I have this other younger guy coming in and singing "my" song - it can get very territorial, but the sense of competition has to go out the window.

With Robin, I fell in love with his gift and his interpretation. We were artists bringing in two completely different interpretations, both musically and acting wise that worked within the template.

DR:  As a performer, you certainly want to please the audience as well as pleasing your boss.

BS:  The question is "Who do you satisfy?". If you can find an alignment of satisfying Paul, pacifying the fans and appease yourself creatively, you have gold. The problem is that if you satisfy Paul, you may not satisfy the fans. TSO is Paul's baby and his vision. I pushed the parameters with "Dream Child" because he really didn't want me to do a lot of blocking and movement. He stopped me several times, but I still continued to do it and that appeased the fans. That's the risk that I take.

DR:  New Years Eve 2013, you made an appearance singing along side Steve Broderick, Chris Pinnella and Jay Pierce at the TSO East performance at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Can you talk about that experience?

BS:  After a two year's hiatus from the group, I didn't think I would be back on stage with them. I thought my years with TSO were done. When they called me for this show I had hope that I might still be part of the band. It was great because I got to perform with the East Coast band, who I never got to spend any time with. It was great to spend time with them in this foreign place, even though it was such a short time. We were literally on the plane longer than we were actually in Berlin.

DR:  The performance itself was around nine minutes long?

BS:  Yes! Everything was so fast-paced and intense.  I knew it was going to be something really special.

DR:  Did you guys rehearse together at all before being flown over?

BS:  No, we had backup tracks to rehearse with. We all knew the song. [Sings Priusquam praesens...]

DR:  It had been reported that the music for all of the bands that night was canned.  Were the vocals done live?

BS:  Oh yes, all of the vocals were live. We were singing our asses off!

DR:  Many of your bandmates from those formative years of TSO often bring up the family aspect of the cast back then, how they bonded and really connected with each other.  Do you feel the same way? Do you miss that?

BS:  Here's the deal: It's a job.  Sometimes you love your job, sometimes you hate your job. Sometimes while at work you might connect with a person or two, but you won't always connect with everybody. Is it a family? I guess. I have been with them for twelve years, so I have a "TSO family", but you have a job to do. My job is to do what Paul tells me to do and that is to carry out his vision. He is the head of the family and he sets the parameters. You do what Dad tells you to do. We as recalcitrant teenagers like to push Dad. To the brink. Of Insanity. [Laughs] If we push Dad a little too far, we can find ourselves in trouble with the law. [Laughs]
Bart Shatto  - January 4, 2008  Moline, IL
Photo Courtesy Brian Reichow

What it comes down to is this: It's a job and its the best job I have ever had. There is a family feel to it and Paul picks his people very wisely and I think the people that he picks belong in the family because of their energy and their essence. We are there to carry out Paul's vision and it is our job to do what Paul tells us without compromising our own creative integrity. I trust Paul's vision and what he is doing is right for the fans and right for the show.

It is also very important to remember that we as performers are representing this brand. TSO is a multi-million dollar corporation, so we need to maintain the integrity of the brand.

DR:  TSO has done three non-Winter tours that had a bit more theatricality to them for the Beethoven's Last Night album. I understand that you had worked up a a presentation for the Twist character.

BS:  Yes. They approached me about learning material for those tours. I learned the Beethoven songs that Rob Evan eventually sang and I learned the songs for the Twist character. I really wanted to be part of that production. I really am trying to reinvent myself within this organization.  I love doing "Old City Bar" but I want to be considered one of the other guys that can get out there in front of the band and do a great job. I am constantly working on my instrument; I am working with an opera teacher to make my voice stronger because that is what Paul wants. I will continue to do that as long as I am with this organization so Paul can see me in a different light.

DR:  Do you ever see yourself recording or performing as a solo music act?

BS:  Yes!  It's always been my dream to  do sort of a combination of John Leguizamo's Ghetto Klown and a cabaret act. It would be stories of my crazy life and then infused with rock 'n roll and Broadway songs.

DR:  What are you thinking for this solo album? Original material? Cover songs?

BS:  It would be mostly Broadway material with a couple rock tunes interspersed. I would love to get Al Pitrelli and Jane Mangini to be involved in it and create songs with a rock edge to them, like "Music of the Night" from Phantom or "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis. I want to blend his sensibilities with my musical theater acumen and see what we create. I would also want to record my version of "Old City Bar" and "Dream Child" on there, with hopefully Al playing the guitar. I just love those two songs and they really represent what I have done with TSO.

DR:  Nice.  Looking forward to that!  This past summer you went back to your hometown of Peoria and performed The Secret Garden.

BS:  Yes. I did The Secret Garden for four or five weeks, did my cabaret show for two sold-out nights and taught some workshops as well.

DR:  Do you feel a bit like a conquering hero, returning to Peoria to perform?

BS:  I did!  And I feel like I left on a really high note. I did tons of press while there and it was just an incredible experience for me. I had never really felt appreciated in Peoria while on tour with TSO or Les Mis; I would get a lukewarm reception when our tours would come through there. I am very proud of my hometown and for the first time after all of these years, I was really celebrated by being there. I've come full circle.

DR:  We talked a little about the Freedom motion picture that you recently appeared in along with Cuba Gooding Jr. Did that come about just from auditioning?

BS:  Yes.  They brought in all different types of people for that role. Rob Evan auditioned for it as well. I was told that it was offered to Lyle Lovett but he had a conflict and wasn't able to do it.  I thought it was cool role, as McGee (the character) had sort of a journey as well. His journey is very similar to the one of the character that Bill Sadler plays. I felt that McGee had been hunting down slaves for a long time and that he decided to do something completely different with his life and and start helping them. Of course he pays a very high price for it at the end. That is the backstory that I created and this character was actually helping other people but had a dark, seedier life before that.

DR:  And one other role I wanted to ask about was your voice over work in the Disney cartoon Gaspard and Lisa. You did the voice for Gaspard's Papa. Was that the first time you had done animated voiceovers?

BS: Yes.

DR:  Is that challenging? Do you work with the other voice actors at the same time?

BS:  I did it in a studio by myself. In this case, the show was already pre-recorded by British actors. I actually had to overdub English! Usually you have to overdub a foreign language, but they wanted American voices. This was actually more challenging than overdubbing someone speaking a foreign language.  The way the British talk, they enunciate certain consonants and stretch them out longer than others. It was very challenging, as I had to watch the animation and match my lines up to the moving mouth of the character and fit my American-isms in with the British-isms; it was painstaking.

DR:  Can you tell me something about Bart Shatto that fans would be surprised to learn about you?

BS:  Hmmm. Well, I played trumpet for ten years. I could play really high like Herb Alpert. Chuck Mangione was a hero of mine! I love playing those kind of songs.

DR:  If you hadn't gone into entertainment, what would you be?

BS:  I would be a writer, writing novels or plays. It's solitary work and you're under your own gun. You just create.

DR:  Have you ever acted on that at all?

BS:  No. I would love to at some point but I am just too busy right now.

DR:  Lastly, what is next for you?

BS:  The TSO tour of course. Then I want to get this cabaret performance piece up and running.  I need to look for a new manager and agent and I also really want to pursue this solo album that we talked about. Something else that a partner and I have been talking about is creating an evening of  Phil Collins music show, with myself and some other Broadway singers come in and reinterpret Phil Collins material. I am also taking a standup comedy course at Gotham Comedy Club to hopefully create my own standup show.

DR:  Great!  Thanks so much for the time, Bart.

BS:  My pleasure!

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

A Conversation with Guy LeMonnier

At 6' 3", Guy LeMonnier often towers over those around him, and for seven years his smooth, powerful baritenor voice set the lofty tone for Trans-Siberian Orchestra's venture into theater-style vocal performances. Millions of TSO fans know Guy as a founding and long-time featured vocalist with their touring show and the voice of "Young Beethoven" from their Beethoven's Last Night rock opera. I caught up with Guy to talk about his TSO legacy as well as his time spent with The Kings of Christmas (the group made up of TSO alum) and his current involvement with Christmas-Prog-Rock sensations, The Wizards of Winter.  We also discussed his acting background and his time spent with theater luminaries Frank Wildhorn and Neil Berg, as well as his future in the film and televsion world.

Dan Roth:  I would like to start with Guy LeMonnier, circa:1999.  You are on the very first Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour as a featured vocalist. How did you connect with them?

Guy LeMonnier:  Those were the days where I was doing straight up theater, pounding the pavement, and I saw the open audition call. I was very, very ill; my voice was raspy. But, I got up at 6:30 in the evening, went into SIR Studios in the city and there were Paul O'Neill and Bob Kinkel.

DR:  Do you remember what you sang for the audition?

GL:  Great question. It may have been something from the musical Rent. I think I also did Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" too.  Depending on the audition, I would have some Broadway songs ready and usually something that rode the line between theater and rock.

But I went in there, was raspy as hell, and they loved me. They claimed that they had seen 2000 people that week, and I know I was the last one that they saw. They adored me until I got in to the studio with them when I was well. I didn't have the same rasp in my voice from being sick. I went into the studio with this clear Jekyll & Hyde theater tone and from there on it was a battle for them to try to get me to sound the way they wanted.

DR: You were the original "Angel" on their tours, singing "An Angel Came Down" and "The Angel Returned" that first tour and for many tours afterwards.  Did you know going in that that was the part they were looking for?

GL:  No. Had no idea. I just went in there, sang what I sung and found out later.

Guy with TSO 2003. Photo Courtesy of Charlie Gow

DR:  Did you sing any other songs on tour?  Or just those two?

GL:  I also sang "Christmas in the Air". If you listen to the original cut of "Christmas in the Air" on the album, it all sits in the basement. There's no dynamic to it, it doesn't climb, there's no high note, no big rock notes. So when they wanted to do it on tour, I sat down with Bob Kinkel and said, "Can we do anything with this song? Can we move and build it and gain some dynamic? Can we end on an up note?". And Bob, with his way, it took him like three seconds and he had the song totally rearranged with big high notes and it was great from there on out.

DR:  Did you know the original vocalist on that song, Jody Ashworth?

GL:  I did! At the same time that I was spending 90 hours a week in the studio with Bob and Paul as they were trying to get me to sound like what they wanted for the Beethoven songs, they got Jody Ashworth singing them in the end. That's gravel; it's like glass scraping and it's a cool sound - but nowhere near any sound that I was going to achieve for those songs. He has a beautiful voice; he even hit those high notes, which was incredible for as low as his voice was.

DR:  Can you tell me a little about that first TSO tour in '99? The vocalists then were you, Tommy Farese and Daryl Pediford?

GL:  Yeah, and John Margolis singing "Old City Bar". 

DR:  Had you done anything similar to this before?

GL:  It was definitely my first exposure to playing with folks working in the rock world, like Al Pitrelli playing with Alice Cooper and Tommy Farese singing in every rock club on Long Island, so playing with a rock band behind me was definitely new to me. Everything up until then had been musical theater. I remember it didn't pay very much that year, and they had all 14 of us packed on one bus.
I had been on tour before, but this was definitely a 'rock tour'. It wasn't very extravagant, but they made us feel important.

They treated us good; you felt like a rock star. You would don your leather jacket and your boots every October; I grew my hair out every year for that. [Laughs] That was ultimately a big issue for me in TSO, that I couldn't grow long hair. The hair is very, very important in TSO - make or break important. At this point, they wouldn't hire someone with a buzz cut or really short hair, unless they could grow it out; it's a big thing for Paul.

DR:  Did you know anyone on the tour before this?  Had you worked with anyone?

GL:  No.  I was a new hire. In fact, I was one of the first theater vocalists they hired.

Guy with TSO 2004. Photo Courtesy of Charlie Gow

DR:  Did you ever fill in for another vocalist and sing something different?

GL:  No, my bag was the musical theater bag. And by that rationale, they would never put me on to sing a song like "Music Box Blues" or any of the rock songs. Like many people in the industry, when they paint you in a corner and see you one way, that's what you are to them. They don't have a lot of vision to see what else you might be capable of. I was not the soul/blues guy, I was not the rock guy; I was the musical theater guy.

DR: So after that first tour, you were not on the TSO stage again until 2002. 

GL:  Correct. I kept on working and picking up other roles. I did Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde tour for nine months. I then did his Dracula musical in  La Jolla, California.

DR:  Did you have to audition again to get back on the TSO tour in 2002?

GL:  No, they were great about that. I had gotten these other roles and couldn't make it out in 2000 and 2001 and they wanted me back. 

DR:  When you returned, the tour was now split into two touring troupes. You are one of a handful of performers that have played in both troupes.  Did you have a choice when they added you to the East cast?

No.  But I liked being on the East tour because it was close to home. But then Rob Evan came in and I got bumped to the West tour the next year.

DR:  They used to include vocalists in their backup band. Were you involved in that at all during your time away? Or were you too busy?

GL:  I did the backup band for one year after I was fired, just for the paycheck.

DR:  So you were with TSO in 1999, then 2002 through 2006. You were there for the remarkable growth from theaters and smaller venues to the arenas. Now that the lights, stage, risers and effects have grown to as large as they are, many fans seem to long for those early tours when it was less about the spectacle.

GL:   There are some changes in the dynamics of a rising band that are hard to combat, unless you don't care about making money. If it were me, there would be at least three TSO tours going right now. There are cities that they toured for years and they are dumping them. They built fanbases in these cities and they left them. There are fans left that gave their time, money and devotion and now they don't come to their city anymore.

I thought the transition to the arenas was really cool. I had never performed on a stage where I could look up and see three tiers of people. The magic definitely left to some extent, just from the lack of intimacy. But it was necessary and inevitable. In the end, it's all about business.  

Even the whole "You've got a job for life" thing that I am sure you have heard from all of the original TSO cast. Was it said? Absolutely. Repeatedly and passionately. Did I ever actually believe that? Even at the tender age of 23 years old? No. This is a business, and absolute statements like that are never valuable in business.

DR:  For six years, you sang the same two songs at every show. Did it ever get old?

Of course. When you consider that it's about ten minutes of your day that you are on stage. But it never got old when I was in the moment, as I stepped to the mic. I couldn't help but feel that emotion and immerse myself in it when I have a row full of children and families looking up at me. But outside of that time, it absolutely got old. And a big reason for that was because there was no real room for elaborating or creativity. I could stick a little grace note in there and get slapped down that night. I had a whole ending for the "Kyrie among nations" that didn't just sit in that same droll way that everyone was singing - I had an R&B line over top of that that went over big, even Pitrelli and the guys on stage loved it. But it had to be taken out immediately. That's what makes something stale. Do I blame Paul for that? No. Do I think his vision is a little limited? Yes, absolutely. 

You have to remember, the show is backlit for a reason. They would much rather have you see flowing hair and cardboard cutouts than actual people. No one has ever spun a solo career off of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. If you're playing 60 shows a year, twenty thousand people a night - don't you think you would get a following? Never. They don't nurture their own people. You're a tool and you're there for a reason.

DR:  Since you were the first one to sing these songs live on tour, did you spend much time trying to emulate the original vocalist?  Or did you get much direction on how to deliver them?

GL:  No. I just sang the songs. Here is the thing about those Angel songs though: They are in the basement. The top note is a D above Middle C - you had to have a real low end to your voice. And to be honest, I don't think they have found anyone yet that can hit the bass notes for those songs. They still pulled it off wonderfully, and I think Andrew [Ross] did an amazing job with them on the West tour, but they're not basses. It's not usually particularly useful to be a bass, but with these songs, it would have opened them up so much more.

Guy with TSO 2004. Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow
When I sang them, I always had the 'wingspan'. I always did it with my arms outstretched. They used to tease me about it. [Laughs]. But the only direction I would get was to "take out that grace note" or "keep it in the basement and keep that drone going". I know it sounds impressive to the audience that way, but they could have done so much more with those songs. I tried but they didn't like it.

DR:  You would come out, sing "An Angel Came Down" to kick off the show and then, apart from some occasional chorus vocals, you weren't back out again until the last song, An Angel Returned".  How did you pass the time?

GL:  [Laughs] We had a straight-up pisser backstage. We were bored out of our minds! It wasn't about us, it was about the band. They thought it was about them and management thought it was about them. We were just extraneous, until the audience started identifying with us and we helped to grow the brand. But what did we do? We ate a lot! Lunch at 3:00.  Here comes dinner at 4:00. And here are the menus for the after-show meal. There were a couple years there where we just got fat! [Laughs].

DR:  You were one of the few performers that spent time with, not just the original, but both the East and West casts as well. Can you talk a little about the differences?
GL:  The East show was always more of the structured template. The West show was "The Wild West" and went very untouched for many years. When you look at the maps of the cities that the East and West troupes travel to, it's hilarious. The East tour would seemingly cover a handful of states, and the West did the rest of the country. [Laughs]
Nobody bothered them - they would travel 700 miles a night, through snow and ice storms - for us it was a rough tour. That alone built so much camaraderie - laying in a bunk in a bus, heading down the Pacific Coast Highway in an ice storm, you are scared for your life. So we built a real bond on those trips.

And the West show was so much more fun. It was much looser and not tied up in the bureaucratic nonsense.

DR:  That came along eventually though.

GL:  Yeah, that came later. Once they took a look out at the shows and said "Woah! What's going on out there? They're out their building tens of thousands of fans. We better go and change the shit!" [Laughs]

DR:  Do you keep up on their shows these days?

GL:  Not really. I hear enough from colleagues about the click tracks, the in-ears, the moving light trusses, the direction. If I had to sum the show up today, I would call it "plastic". "Plastic with moving parts". [Laughs] And I mean no offense to the performers, just the show today doesn't breathe like it used to. 

DR:  For those that didn't have the pleasure of seeing you perform live, all TSO fans certainly know you as the voice of Young Beethoven, since you sang "Vienna" on their Beethoven's Last Night album.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - "Vienna" - Guy LeMonnier on Lead Vocals

GL: They were grooming me for a while, trying to get me to sound like a particular voice that they were looking for with the Beethoven character. Again, they wound up going for Jody Ashworth, who I think is wonderful. We have nowhere near the same sounding voices. They should have known what they had with me - a clean-sounding musical theater voice.  Instead I would be spending 90+ hours a week in the studio with them - unpaid hours - for them to realize that they needed Jody's voice for those songs. I was doing all of this with the hopes that I would get picked for the Beethoven role. I could have had four albums worth of material for as much time that I spent in the studio, but in the end, I wound up with the one song, "Vienna".

DR:  What else did you record while with them?

GL:  I recorded many of the songs for Romanov. I recorded "Who is this Child?", "This is Who You Are", and most of the Beethoven songs. Some of those songs were a right fit for me, many were not. They wrote those songs with a really deep low end and then they peak at the other end of the spectrum. Rob Evan would have been great from the beginning with these songs because he has that range.  But in the end, I think Jody did just a terrific job with the Beethoven songs.

DR:  After so many years touring and recording with TSO, are they any particular shows or moments that stand out to you?

GL:   I only have terrific memories of my time there. We all had just so much fun. With the core group of guys - Tommy Farese, Tony Gaynor and Michael Lanning - we built such wonderful friendships that will last a lifetime. It was a "rock tour" - it's as close to Aerosmith as someone like me is going to get.

DR:  One event that seems to have gone down in TSO lore is your appearance on stage in a cow costume. For years, TSO fans talked about this as one of the funniest things ever witnessed on the TSO stage. Tommy talked a bit about it in my interview with him.  Can you explain how you wound up on stage wearing a cow costume? [Laughs]
Guy & Tommy Farese with TSO 2003. Photo Courtesy of Charlie Gow

GL:   Well, I found a cow costume in my size and it was all over from there, Dan. [Laughs]  When you find an XXXL cow costume, you hang on to it!

Part of the reason that the audiences loved us so much is because we were always taking it to the next level and hamming it up. Audiences like to feel that they are being let in on something or they are part of a joke. During the introductions, we would really ham it up and show the charisma of this group. Those kinds of actions were very much frowned upon by the organization. 

Anyway, I had found this cow costume and I brought it with me to rehearsals as a joke for Halloween, but never used it.  So now, I had this costume in my luggage. We let Tommy know what was up, but we didn't tell him when. We get to Omaha for a show and I decided that I was going to get into this costume for the intros. I walked out on to stage in this head-to-toe cow costume, with a straight face as if nothing was wrong. Tommy basically spit water across the stage. [Laughs] He put a towel over the udders, which made it look like a bunch of erections. Everyone on stage and in the audience was cracking up - it went on forever. I just walked to the mic with a complete straight face and said "What?". The crowd roared. It was a lot of fun. Of course there was a phone call from the office waiting for us after the show.

I got gifts for years from fans: cowbells, cow statues, anything cow related. It was good times, a lot of fun.
Tony Gaynor, Tommy Farese,  Michael Lanning, Guy LeMonnier
on stage with TSO in 2004
(Photo courtesy of Brian Reichow)

DR:  Did you ever miss a show?

GL:  No.  There was a time where I got really bad food poisoning. Our Canadian crew was very big into mixing Clamato juice with beer. One day, I was hanging out on the crew bus and they offered me this drink. It turned out that the clamato had been sitting underneath a table in the back lounge of the bus for half a day and went bad. I was not in good shape after drinking that. [Laughs] I still went on though.

DR:  TSO has a mandatory signing line for their performers at the end of their shows. Did you enjoy those?

GL:  Absolutely! It was so much fun to connect with the fans. Of course, there were some nights where the line wrapped around the arena and it was a little daunting, but it was harder for the band. The band was up there for the whole show, while most of us singers only sang a song or two and then sat around. We had a great time with the fans. Tommy, Tony and I would have a riot with the fans in that line. [Laughs]

DR:  Can you talk about the circumstances that led to your separation from TSO in 2007?

GL: My ending was horrendous and life-changing, like many peoples were. All I want to say about it - and I do want to say this - is that I was fired over hearsay. And the hearsay came from an unreliable source, especially in light of the behavior that occurred afterwards. There was enough drama to fill a reality show.

I had just bought a house down the street from where Al Pitrelli owned a compound of six houses with Jane. I did this because I, along with the rest of the TSO cast, were all invited to stay up there and live there and contribute to and write the next TSO album.

DR:  They asked the cast for creative input?

GL:  That sweetens the pot a little bit, right? I was a single guy and didn't want to live in their house with the others, so I bought my own place down the street. I was working for this multi-million dollar organization and it was great to be brought even more so into the fold - and with the promise of helping to create the next album. Of course, that promise never came through, and I was let go.

DR:  The next time most TSO fans heard from you again was in 2011, when you were involved in The Kings of Christmas with other TSO alumni. Where were you from in the interim?
Guy with TSO 2004. Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

GL: The extrication from TSO was enough to make me start a new page. I had lost my girlfriend of four years, I was up to my eyeballs in debt after just buying this house, and I had lost my steady job. The whole ordeal was humiliating and devastating. So I left. I packed up the truck and I went out to Los Angeles to pursue TV and Film roles.

Everybody has his or her story - particularly with that organization. Michael Lanning was fired just after his son died and was wrongfully accused of drinking on the tour. If you can allow me to refute that on tape right now, that was bullshit. Absolute bullshit. We lived in tight quarters, together all the time; we knew what he was doing. In fact, we were the ones that would tease him about having a drink, and he refused every time. So that accusation was perhaps the most wrongful of all of TSO's many firings, in my opinion. It was a blatant lie, he didn't have a drop to drink, and that was the reason they used for getting rid of him. All of the firings - from Michael Lanning to Mark Wood to Tommy - were all done in such a tactless, cowardly, horrible way. 

The bottom line is that Paul decided that he wanted kids up there and that's what he has now. Leather-clad, long hair, the chain-wallet look. No offense to the folks who take the stage today, but that's the vision that Paul decided he wanted and older guys with tux tails on are not going to fit in that image. Young, blonde-haired kids with hair down to their butts does. I get why he wanted that image - that's what he thinks a rock show should look like. Never mind how successful it had gotten over the years with talented, experienced people that didn't quite fit his vision all of a sudden.

DR:  Andrew Ross took over your role on the shows after you were let go. In my interview with him, he mentioned that you and he met that next year.

GL: Yeah! We went to Disneyland together. Andrew is a great guy and did a wonderful job in the show. He was nowhere close to me, which was good. If you are trying to imitate the one who was there before, that's often not the way to go - you have to have your own take on it. I thought he was terrific. I feel bad that he had such a hard time from the audience and the cast when he first took over. I was well liked and had a lot of fun with everyone there, but I never felt like I was the Angel or someone that would have been that missed. But he was great in the show and if things were different and I was to do it again, I would take things from him and what he did with the role as well. We had a great time hanging out.  And he has beautiful hair. [Laughs]

DR:  I wanted to ask you about The Kings of Christmas record, 365 Days a Year.  How did you get involved with that?

GL:  The guys called me and said they wanted to write an album. So I packed up the car in LA and moved back to New York. Because of that, I had a lot at stake with this record, maybe more than everyone else. 

DR:  Tony Gaynor, Tommy Farese and Maxx Mann were involved with this. There were rumors of Bart Shatto being part of this as well?

GL:  Bart was at first, but his involvement was only as deep as the TSO leash would allow him to be. Once the news of our band reached TSO, he was out. I do understand where Bart was coming from - when TSO tells you that you are going to lose your job over this and that you can't do a Christmas album, some people are going to tell TSO to buzz off, and some are going to cling to them. I understand both positions.

Guy with TSO 2005. Photo Courtesy of Brian Reichow

DR:  Before you guys announced the The Kings of Christmas band name, there were two other names floated on the internet from your camp: "TxO" and "Bunk Alley Brothers".  Was either of those in real consideration?

GL:  TxO was never going to be used. It seemed cute, as in Ex-TSO guys, but Tommy, Tony and I never intended to use it, but suddenly it was out there [Laughs]. The Bunk Alley Brothers name was talked about a bit more and considered viable.

DR:  What was it like to work again with your former TSO cast members?

GL:  Tommy and Tony are in my heart of hearts. I love those guys. I grew up with them in a lot of ways. I was 23 years old when we all started the TSO live shows in 1999, so I have known them now 15 years. And we have transcended to that point where no matter whether we are fighting or kidding or whatever, it's all love. They're family. 

DR:  Each of your voices are pretty distinct and one can easily pick out who is singing what. I know you sing lead on five of the album's songs, and you share the lead on "Soldier's Song. Some of the songs on the album are pretty heavy, in terms of lyrics and topic. Can you talk about the writing process?  The credits aren't very specific.

GL:  For the unity of the band, we agreed to list the credits as everything having been written by The Kings of Christmas. First, let me say that most of the songs on that album would not have happened without the amazing Dave Silva on guitar.  He came up with so many riffs that we were able to run with.  But we all did contribute in various ways to various songs. I had a hand in writing "Henry the Horse", "Christmas Passed", "New York Christmas", "How's Your Life", and "How do you Feel?". "How's Your Life" is mine - I wrote that song front to back. Tommy helped with the lyrics and brought a new aspect to the song. That's really the way we worked. I am really proud of my work on this album; I had a real hand in the melodies in particular. Tommy is such a terrific lyricist and he really helped bang out the lyrics.
"How's Your Life"                                                                  "Christmas Passed"

DR: The Kings of Christmas project seemed steeped in TSO-inspired controversy. Tommy Farese was fired from TSO for participating. Tony Gaynor admitted that he took phone calls from TSO management where he was told that he couldn't be involved in another Christmas project. Did all of this cast a pall over your work as you were putting the album together?  Or did it create a bit of drive or motivation?

GL:  TSO were like hounds on our ass for a while there. There were cease and desist letters and lawyers involved. There was this ridiculous notion of "You cannot do anymore Christmas". But we took all of that and used it as a motivator to make the best album that we could. We still thanked the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in our credits, because the bottom line is that we would have never met if it weren't for them. 

DR:  The album certainly garnered rave reviews once it was released, though you ran into some difficulties in mounting the tour. Now that a couple years have passed, is there still a future for The Kings of Christmas?

GL:  Well, first, my apologies to the fans for that aborted tour situation in 2011. The fan response was overwhelming, but Tommy, Tony and I had decided that the live show wasn't ready.  Some others in the band and a promoter felt otherwise and they went out on tour without the rest of us, using the Kings name. We still stand by our decision; a canceled show can be forgiven, a bad show is never forgotten.

As for a future, I really don't know. I personally put a lot of time and effort into it. Not just the recording and writing, but looking for investors and building the interest. I'm not even 40 yet and I am trying to pursue a career of my own. It got to the point that I couldn't afford any more time out of my life to keep this project growing. Is there a future for it? There could be. The album was pretty well received, but we also heard from critics that it was a little too heavy and emotional, when in fact it's just a different take. We weren't trying to be TSO at all.

DR:  And that was something that you as a band were pushing to the fans - letting them know that you guys were writing these songs, not a producer or a behind-the-scenes person.

GL:  The only thing that was similar was the combination of songs and a story.  

DR:   In 2013, you, Tommy, Tony and Michael Lanning wound up collaborating with The Wizards of Winter on their tour. 

GL:  Yes!  They are an outstanding band, and they are inspiring because of their music.They used to be a TSO tribute band, but if they were still just a cover band, I wouldn't have been interested.  They are such authentic people. What attracts me to them are their personalities, what a wonderful family they are. At this point in my life, the quality of people that I am working with is more important than anything. Plus, their original music is so beautiful.

DR:  Did you four enjoy touring together once again? It seemed like the audiences really appreciated seeing and hearing you once again.
Guy with The Wizards of Winter 2014.  Photo Courtesy of Vicki Bender

GL:  Yeah, it was a good time. We all got to go out and do our thing again. Mikey would bring down the house every night like he always did with his "With a Little Help From My Friends". Tommy was out there singing his songs - he did "Ornament" the way he sang it for the early morning radio gigs. And Tony tells a story like no one else. 

DR:  You recently announced that you have officially joined the band. How come?

GL:  Because they asked. I like the path that they're on. They are exiting the mold of a cover band and are breaking out with their original music. I want to be there to help with that and to see that happen. Their music is brilliant.

DR:  And you are more involved in the tour?

GL:  Yes, I fill in where they need filling in. I help with the arrangements and in backing vocals throughout the show.

DR:  You sing lead on two songs on the new Wizards of Winter CD - can you tell me about them?

GL:  Yes! "Special Feeling" is a song that I sang with them on the 2013 tour and really fell in love with it. I was delighted when they asked me to sing it for their new album.  I also sing a duet called "Just Believe", which they had just written for the album. It's nice to be appreciated and I don't think I ever felt that way with TSO, for the many years that I was there. I kind of bled into the background, I did my job and hope I did it well, but it wasn't a real atmosphere full of appreciation if you know what I mean. 

"Special Feeling"                                                              "Just Believe"

I really enjoyed singing these two songs with the Wizards. I am so excited for the band's future. They have gold on their hands, whether they realize it or not and I am thrilled to be a part of the growth. Plus, having Tony there and hopefully Tommy again next year is great as well.  I am in love with their music.  Unlike most TSO songs, where they never fit right into vocalist's ranges and are in these weird keys, Scott Kelly writes for the singer. Every song has a sweet spot. I love singing with them.

DR:  We talked earlier about you doing some musical stage work. You toured with Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde. What was your involvement in his Dracula production?

GL:  I was in his production of Dracula in La Jolla that was coming to Broadway.  I was Tom Hewitt's understudy and stunt double, so I was flying on wires for the show.  I also recorded the demos for the Broadway production.

Guy singing "The Longer I Live", Dracula The Musical

Frank writes amazing musicals. If you look at his body of work, it is absurd that they won't keep his musicals running on Broadway. He has taken his musicals to Korea and Japan and he is huge there because they love his shit, as well they should. He wrote this wonderful new musical of the story of Camelot, Excalibur, that went right to Switzerland. That's the kind of show we need back here on Broadway instead of all of these movie rip-offs and bullshit. You look up and down Broadway and wonder, "Where's the dramatic musicals that have always been around?". Musicals like Les Mis, Miss Saigon, Jekyll & Hyde, and Scarlet Pimpernel are all going away, and that's what I moved here to do!

DR:  And you also worked with Neil Berg in The Prince the Pauper?

Yes!  I actually took over for Rob Evan in that one. I had met Rob when we were both doing Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde. He was doing the alternate and understudy for the role on Broadway and I was out on tour doing the Second National tour. 

I would work with Neil again in a heartbeat. His musicals are fantastic! The Prince and the Pauper? It's a full-length Les Mes-style musical. It's beautiful and funny and dark and serious. The music is phenomenal! It was an amazing musical that was cut down to make it a kids show. His music is so pleasing to the ear. Rob Evan and I were in that together, and I eventually took over his role of Miles Hendon when he left. For the cast recording, I am on a song with other characters, performing "Father Andrew's Lesson / Thrill Of Adventure".

DR:  Most recently, you were seen in the off-Broadway show of Around the World in 80 Days here in New York, which was a very elaborate production for being off-Broadway.

GL:  I really came in on that to help with the theater transformation for that show. It had a 2½ million dollar budget and was top notch all the way.  Myself and two other guys rebuilt the theater and when some of the original cast started moving on, I took over in the lead role. It was very cool and a nice re-entry to theater here in New York.

Guy singing "Oh Holy Night", Flat Rock Playhouse 2013

DR:  And in 2014 you were the Production Manager for another Off-Broadway show that drew rave reviews, Ayn Rand's Anthem.

GL: Yeah, I enjoy being behind the scenes as well. I ran the production - I had a technical director, a lighting designer and a sound designer all under me. It was hellish, but it really came out well.

DR:  You seem equally comfortable whether you are swinging a hammer and building a set, singing in front of 20,000 fans or running the behind-the-scenes production of a play.

GL:   I gained a valuable skill set from my father growing up; he and I would build houses and I am thankful that I learned a lot from him. I like being a production manager because I think I am a good boss; I am not always the best with delegation but I am pretty fair with everyone.

DR: What is something that someone might not know about Guy LeMonnier?

I love movie scores. I have a real fascination with movie soundtrack, from Forrest Gump to Bridges of Madison County

DR:  You have a somewhat unique last name. Did you ever think of going with a stage name?

GL:  So many people think that LeMonnier is already a stage name. [Laughs]

DR:  What is next for you?

GL: The further along in you get in life, the more you want those creature comforts - a family, a house and you want to make money.  Frankly, Off-Broadway theater is not the place to make money and the state of Broadway at the moment is not the most viable venue for me either. I'm in love with the film and television process. I got into the entertainment business to fulfill an obvious need for attention [Laughs] and I want to be wherever people are picking up the remote.

I've got a great manager now and I want to be involved in the most prolific screen venue I can, and right now that's Netflix, Hulu, and whatever else people are watching at home. the auditions are rolling in, we'll see what happens.

For more information:

Guy LeMonnier:

Video Channels:

The Wizards of Winter:

The Kings of Christmas:

Special thanks to Charlie Gow for his help with photos for this interview. Charlie was a good friend and a big fan of TSO. He was also a big supporter of my series of interviews and frequently opened up his vaults and shared with me photos from his personal collection for use with the interviews. Charlie passed away before he could read this one, but I am pretty sure he would give his seal of approval.  R.I.P. Charlie.