Jack Firneno, the Wire
The difference between “opera” and “rock opera” is much more than mere semantics. That’s according to singer Dwayne Washington, who has the skills — and the stage — to prove the point.
“Rock operas really emphasize the higher notes and the grit you have in rock,” explained the Juilliard-trained opera singer who normally specializes in the likes of George Gershwin and Rodgers & Hammerstein. There, he said, “There’s more of an emphasis on long lines.”
This month, Washington gets to showcase a little bit of both at the Bristol Riverside Theatre in Broadway Serenade. Playing from Aug. 13 to Aug. 23, it’s the final installment of the theater’s three Summer Musicales.
As the show’s name suggests, it’s a revue of songs from various musicals with solo, duet and group features. But along with selections from classics including Hello Dolly and Porgy and Bess, there’s more modern fare — “The edgy side of Broadway,” as Washington puts it — like Jesus Christ Superstar.
It also includes a cut from Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a piece billed as his sequel to Phantom of the Opera but so far has been performed only in England.
As one of the six featured singers, Washington will get the spotlight “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess, and “Superstar” from Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s a chance for him to continue expanding his repertoire to include those more modern pieces — recently he also played in Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera, a musical about the mid-90s Olympic scandal involving Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
It’s a sort of stylistic variety, Washington noted, that is becoming more common.
“There’s a lot of that sort of crossover happening now,” he explained. “A lot of people would look at classical singers and say they can only sing classical. But, you use that training as a basis to sing anything.”
When it comes to, say, the sophistication of opera and the grit of rock, “Voice teachers are starting to teach both, and more singers can go back and forth. You don’t have to put yourself in a box and only sing the golden age. You can do contemporary works and push the envelope.”
And, that meshing of styles is what makes this production exciting. “It’s not just a night of Gershwin and Cole Porter. The audience gets to relive some of the great moments of Broadway, and then clamp their hands and stomp their feet to newer things like Hairspray,” he said. “If the audience is willing to live with us and ride with us, they’ll have a great time.”
And, given his experience so far in Bristol, he’s confident that will be the case. This is Washington’s third show at the Riverside. He debuted late last year in the theater’s winter Musicale, and returned for their production of Ragtime that ran in March and April this year.
“The faculty, all of the directors, are very supportive of young artists’ careers,” he said. “They push them to be better than they were in the show before.” And, especially after his experience with Ragtime, “Any time [artistic director Keith Baker] asks me, I’m quick to run back.”
Washington is as excited to be onstage again at the Riverside as much as he is to be a part of a show where he gets to continue exploring roles and routines beyond what he trained for. But, he stressed, the show promises to be exciting from start to finish.
In fact, he said, the moment he’s looking forward to the most in this show isn’t even one of his: “Every rehearsal thus far, when Kim Carson sings “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables, I get goosebumps.” Φ
Broadway Serenade runs at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St.in Bristol, from Aug. 13 to 23. For information or tickets, call 215–785–0100 or visit www.brtstage.org.