Even though he was not alive during the 1970s, Michael James Byrne grew up listening to the decade’s biggest artists, from Carole King and Elton John to ABBA and Queen. Now, in FST’s latest music revue, The ’70s: More Than A Decade, Byrne gets to revisit the music that was always playing in his house when he was young.
We sat down with Michael to talk about returning to FST, what made people fall in love with disco, and the lasting power of ’70s music.
What did you learn about the ‘70s and the music that came out of that era? Did anything surprise you?
What surprised me most about the ’70s and its music was how much it reflected society and what was happening culturally. Music was becoming a mirror and a form of commentary on the events happening in and out of our country. Unlike the ’50s and ’60s, music was no longer an escape. It was a harsh reminder.
I always thought these songs were just that…songs. In doing my own research, along with the help of the script written by Rebecca Hopkins, Richard Hopkins, and Sarah Durham, my eyes were opened to the fact that these songs were popular for a reason. They had something to say. The songs connected with us because they didn’t run away from truth. These revelations really made the context surrounding our show tangible and something that not only I could feel, but hopefully something audiences can feel as well.
Last season, you made your FST debut in The Wanderers, a Cabaret honoring the dynamic harmony groups of the ’50s and ’60s. What is your favorite thing about being back?
My favorite thing about being back at FST is that I am here at the start of the creative process—last year, I joined The Wanderers cast part-way through the run. Having the opportunity to be my full creative self in the rehearsal room has been the biggest difference. Also, having time to work with our director, Catherine, and create a piece of art that can move audience members has been a true highlight of my time so far.
The 70s: More Than A Decade features a wide array of musical styles, which must be pretty challenging to pull off vocally. What do you do to prepare to go on stage?
If there is one thing I have been forever grateful in my performance career it is my knowledge of vocal health. I’ve been taught by some of the best vocal coaches in California and New York City. When you are faced with extreme differences in styles in these Cabaret shows, you must work smart, not hard.
The demand for my role in The 70s: More Than A Decade isn’t easy. Singing hard rock (like The Who’s Roger Daltrey) to highly stylized falsetto (like The Bee Gees) requires preparation that ranges from diet to vocal warm ups, and includes lots of physical warm ups. My pre-show rituals always start with a workout – I do this before every show to warm my body up and get my blood flowing. I eat well and do vocal warm ups once my body “wakes up.” And of course, because of the nature of the show, I drink ginger and turmeric tea with honey to help soothe my vocal chords.
As a proud movie buff, do you have a favorite film from or set in the ‘70s?
It’s no secret that some of my favorite films of all time are Star Wars, which came out in 1977, and Jaws, which was released in 1975. The ’70s were a key decade in the evolution of cinema and marked the creation of the “blockbuster.”
The 70s: More Than A Decade talks a lot about how TV was changing in the ’70s, but film was also transforming at this time. This decade saw the end of those classic MGM films and saw the rise of the “Movie Brats”—Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese—to name a few. I could go on and on about film in the ’70s, but I will leave it at that. Find me after the show and I will talk your ear off about it.
The 70s: More Than A Decade is now playing in FST’s Court Cabaret. For tickets and more information, click here.