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The Brilliance of the Brill Sound

November 9, 2023

Before Nashville became the place to be if you wanted to make it in country music and before Los Angeles became the headquarters for the biggest record labels, Midtown Manhattan was the epicenter of music production. It was there that, during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, teams of young songwriters worked in cramped offices, creating some of the most beloved pop songs of all time.

No place in Midtown was more bustling than the Brill Building, which, by 1962, housed more than 150 music businesses. Some of the most popular songs of the time—including “One Fine Day,” “I’m A Believer,” and “On Broadway”—were written at or within a few blocks of the Brill Building. The music that came from this area was so influential that it would become the name for an entire era of music: the "Brill Sound.”

This Season, we’re celebrating this distinct sound with Up on the Roof, an original music revue that audiences are calling "Outstanding," "Spectacular," and "One of my all-time favorites."

Up on the Roof features more than two dozen hits written by such legendary artists as Carole King, Burt Bacharach, and Neil Diamond.

"These songs are all so well written," said cast member Joey Panek. "They have such great melodies and lyrics that really speak to us. Because of that, this music has stayed in pop culture throughout generations."

Pictured: Brandon Wardell and Joey Panek in "Up on the Roof." Photo by John Jones.

For fellow cast member Jacquelyne Paige, these writers delivered in both quality and quantity.

"Not only were they extremely prolific, but they captured the quintessential human struggle in simple and beautiful ways," said Paige. "'Stand By Me' isn't incredibly complex, but it is extremely effective in portraying the human experience."

The iconic “Brill Sound” was created by combining modern Rock & Roll sounds with the Tin Pan Alley approach to songwriting. In the early 20th century, Tin Pan Alley was one central location where composers created, packaged, and sold material. The Brill Building took this model and became a musical one stop-shop.

“The Brill Building housed numerous songwriters and publishers under one roof, which fostered collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas,” said show director Catherine Randazzo.

One result of this collaborative environment was that different musical styles—including Latin rhythms, doo-wop, and R&B—were being mixed into popular music.

“These writers were influenced by the city they lived in,” said Lead Developer Rebecca Hopkins. “During this time, New York was the most diverse city in the world and these writers absorbed all the music around them and put it into their songs.”

Up on the Roof is a tribute to these legendary songwriters, who, at the time, thought they were just doing their jobs, but would ultimately lay the groundwork for what we now consider pop music.

“At the time, they knew they were working to create hits, but they were dismissive of their own work,” added Hopkins. “They started out writing about teen love, which might seem thin, but they were writing to connect with a specific generation at a specific moment in time. So, as the listeners got older, the music matured with them. No one can call ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ thin.”

Join us this winter as we celebrate the songwriters, like Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Gerry Goffin, who simply went to work each day, but ended up shaping the sound and trajectory of modern pop music.

Up on the Roof is now playing in FST's Court Cabaret. For tickets and more information, click here.

By Michael Miller and Lydia Baxter

Header Image: Jannie Jones, Brandon Wardell, Joey Panek, and Jacquelyne Paige. Photo by FST.