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Re-envisioning Rock & Roll – With Jared Mancuso

October 21, 2022

Jared Mancuso first played Rock & Roll legend Buddy Holly in 2013 in Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of the hit musical, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Over the next few years, he would go on to bring the iconic musician to life in four or five other productions.

Later, in 2016, Mancuso teamed up with his friend and soon-to-be artistic partner, Nick Gallardo, to create a show of their own. They wanted to create a show jam-packed with the top Rock & Roll hits—such as “Rave On,” “Burning Love,” and “Hold Me Tight”—but present them with a contemporary twist. That show became Rock & Roll Reignited With Not Fade Away.

We sat down with Jared Mancuso to learn more about his creative process, what it’s like to perform this rockin’ revue in FST’s Court Cabaret, and what he learned from his days of tap dancing in shows like 42nd Street and The Producers.

Rock & Roll Reignited gives new life to classic Rock & Roll songs by artists like Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis, by giving them a more contemporary feel and sound. How do you walk the line of modernizing these songs, while still honoring them for the classics they are? What is your process like?

It’s a line that is sometimes scary to walk. It’s easy for me to come up with an arrangement of a song that I like, but will the audience like it?! So far, the answer has been yes. At their core, the songs themselves are so good that people just connect to them right away, even when we’re presenting the music in a different style than they are used to. 

The process of revamping a song’s sound is different every time. Sometimes we make more subtle changes—adding stops, going directly into another song, including an a cappella section, or even just adding some more distortion does the trick. Some are big changes. Our finale—which has had many versions over the years—was initially met with resistance from some bandmates when I first arranged it several years ago. There was an understandable worry that it would be too long, or the audience wouldn’t get the song choices, but once we performed it in front of an audience, it all just clicked.

Rock & Roll Reignited features some lesser-known songs like “Rockin’ All Night” by Ritchie Valens. Why did you decide to not only feature the hits, but to have a more varied song list?

For us, a good song is a good song. So, if it vibes with us and we have fun playing it, then we get to share that fun with the audience. And in turn…they also have fun! Other times, we will think a song is obscure, but everyone in the crowd actually knows it. Even if just one person is surprised by a song, that’s a success to us.

You have performed this show at a variety of venues across the country for audiences of all different sizes. FST’s Court Cabaret, where you’re performing now, is an intimate, 100-seat Cabaret space where you’re no farther than 20-30 feet away from the audience. How does performing Rock & Roll Reignited in a space like this change the impact of the show? Did you adapt the show in any way to better fit the space?

We’ve performed this show for anywhere from 70 to 1700 attendees, and in some ways, they’re actually the same. We’re always going to blast out the same energy no matter how many people are watching. It’s just a different version of the energy. With a smaller audience, that energy translates into a more intimate connection with its members. We’re not singing out into the rafters because there isn’t anybody out that far, so we sing right to the people who are in our sightlines. We can see virtually every person in the audience, so all of that power we put into the big houses we make into a one-on-one connection. The team at FST has really helped us dial that in for their audiences in the Court Cabaret. It was amazing to work with them on it.

When you’re not performing with Not Fade Away, you’ve also speny your time performing in musicals, such as 42nd Street, Rent, and The Producers. What have you learned from your experiences performing in these musical theatre classics and brought to Rock & Roll Reignited?

I’ve learned a lot from the musical theatre world and have tried to implement as many of these things into Rock & Roll Reignited as I can! One big one is the idea of bringing things around to a simple place.

For example, the original choreography in the opening number of 42nd Street is a series of fast-footed time steps with beautiful and complex sounding rhythms. The climax of the number, however, happens when every dancer on stage does a simple step that is just everyone smacking back and forth on the balls of their feet. There is no fancy rhythm, no giant arm movements, no spins, just everyone moving together in unison. The audience goes nuts every single time. Even though every other step was significantly more difficult, it’s that precise moment of clarity that allows the audience to zoom out and see a big giant picture of synchronized splendor.

So in our show, when we can play an epic song like “Johnny B. Goode” with ripping guitar solos, ultra-high energy, musical arrangements with a million moving parts, and jazzy lights, it’s going to feel amazing to experience that and then…Boom! We cut out the instruments and get the audience to just clap their hands and sing “Go Johnny, go, go!” That’s the “zoom out” moment. 

Who introduced you to the music featured in Rock & Roll Reignited and what made you fall in love with it?

I can remember the first cassette tape I ever picked out for myself (which wasn’t Alvin and The Chipmunks, Greatest Hits) was Meet The Beatles. I was with my mom on our way to the mall when “I Want To Hold Your Hand” came on the radio and I was obsessed. So, she helped me find the tape and I just listened to it over and over. I also remember having a karaoke tape with “Twist and Shout” on it and singing along to that on my headphones at recess in 3rd grade. There were even times my brother and I would use old tennis rackets as guitars and propped up hockey sticks as microphones and have rock concerts in our basement. It was all hands on deck when it came to curating the giant playlist I had available when growing up.

Rock & Roll Reignited With Not Fade Away played in FST’s Court Cabaret from June 14 - August 7, 2022.