Joel Newsome first graced FST’s Cabaret stage in 2006, when he appeared in the popular Harold Arlen tribute, Over the Rainbow. This Season, he returns to the FST Cabaret to revisit the songs of The Wizard of Oz, along with countless others that helped create the soundtrack to the last century, in the theatre’s latest music revue, Reel Music.
We sat down with Joel to talk about his personal connection to the songs in the show, his pre-show rituals, and how audiences have been responding to Reel Music.
Tell us about your experience so far with Reel Music.
My experience with Reel Music thus far has been lovely. When I perform, I see the faces of FST audiences being genuinely moved. Reel Music takes people on a journey. Almost everyone has seen the movies we sing about, and the show takes them back to when they were younger. It stirs up old feelings and is heartwarming. I see couples reach for each other’s hands at times, wink, and smile at each other. It is a moving experience for them, which makes it moving for me to perform. I am honored by that.
Do you have a personal connection to any of the songs in Reel Music?
I was a huge movie fan as a kid. My record collection was mostly movie soundtracks. Yes, I was a movie nerd. When I sing “Suicide is Painless” from the movie M*A*S*H, I remember hearing it on a Henry Mancini album my grandmother owned. When I sing “The Best That You Can Do,” I can see the 45 single spinning on my turn table. I still have it.
Going into rehearsals for Reel Music, I knew every single song on the list. I saw Flashdance five times in the theatre. I saw JAWS four times, and in college, we rented The Graduate once every couple of months. I have performed the stage version of Singing in the Rain twice. I could go on and on, but I can safely say that the entire show is a nostalgic trip for me.
In Reel Music, you perform a wide variety of songs, from “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Mrs. Robinson” to “Somewhere Out There” and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do).” Do you have any pre-show rituals that help you get your mind, body, and voice in the right state so you can perform these different musical styles?
When I am in a show that requires this much singing, I must admit that I become obsessively "hermit-like.” I don't drink or socialize much because I want to be able to sound good in the show. And this show requires me to use all aspects of my voice. Some of the hardest singing is not the actual solos, but the background harmonies. Sometimes the harmonies are used to quietly back up another singer, so you have to carefully lock in your pitch, not push, and let the microphone do a lot of the work.
There are a lot of straight-tones used in the show as well which can be hard on my voice. So, my pre-show ritual is bicycling. I usually bike early in the day to get my body moving and the blood pumping, but closer to showtime, I find a specific and private place where I can bike and vocalize at the same time. And this is where I speak to my favorite voice teacher, Marie. Sadly, Marie passed away last year, but I use this time to spiritually speak to her and ask her to give me strength for a good performance. It is a calming time for me and it helps me prepare my mind before coming to work.
Reel Music was created by FST’s in-house team of Cabaret Developers, who, once rehearsals started, worked with you and your cast mates to shape the show. Can you talk a little bit about the show’s creation and impact?
The writers stayed away from Broadway shows that were turned into movies and vice versa. Instead, they decided to focus on the movies that had that "one hit song” pinned to it. They wanted to highlight the one song that the entire movie is remembered for. Almost every song in Reel Music was, at one time, heard on the radio because it has become the signature song of a certain movie. People could blast the radio while driving and remember the feeling they felt while watching that movie. When you string those songs together in chronological order from the ‘30s to the 2000s, it takes the audience on a magical and emotional journey that spans both childhood and adulthood.