In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of A Grand Night for Singing at Montgomery Playhouse, meet Brian Lyons-Burke.
Please introduce yourself and tell us where we may have seen your work on our local stages before? Who did you play?
I’m Brian Lyons-Burke, and most recently played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof with the Damascus Theatre Company. Over the last two years I have performed in My Fair Lady as Henry Higgins (also with DTC), in Peter Pan as Captain Hook with the Arlington Players, in The Producers as Roger De Bris with Sandy Spring Theatre Group, and as Thenardier in Les Miserables with the Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia.
Why did you want to be part of the cast of A Grand Night for Singing?
I have for some time wished to work with our Director Kevin Sockwell. I also saw this as an opportunity to sing some of the most classic works of American musical theatre in a different format, where the challenge is to connect with the audience almost purely through the music. Usually I sing through a character, which colors the vocalization. Here the singing can be pure and unadulterated, which presents its own opportunities and vulnerabilities.
What were the biggest challenges learning your songs?
One real challenge has been to bring life to the music in a way that will touch the audience and pull them in. The other is that the show is full of complex harmonies, which can be difficult to get right. As Kevin has told us time and again, we need to listen to and understand what the music is saying before we can make it real.
What do your songs and solos mean to you?
Most of my solos are romantic ballads, and in one way or another they all have a sense of yearning, of loss, of pain. They speak to the things we wish were so, we wish we had done, we wish had never happened. They speak in one way or another to experiences to which we can all relate. That is part of the magic that Rogers and Hammerstein gave to us. Except for Oh What a Beautiful Morning. That’s in a whole different category!
How would you describe a Rodgers and Hammerstein Song?
Romantic. Emotional. Full of feeling. And often an exuberant sense of humor.
What do these songs have to say to today’s audiences?
The music of Rogers and Hammerstein still has the power to touch us, to make us feel deeply, to laugh, to cry. The songs may be from a different time, but they speak of timeless things. We have all been or wanted to be in love, we have all danced, we have all had regrets, and we all love to laugh. That is what fills the theatre and our hearts.
What song that you are not singing is your favorite and why?
“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.” In the show this gets a bluesy treatment brings a new life to this old standard.
This is an ensemble piece. What do you admire most about your fellow cast members? And what have you learned about being a member of an ensemble that you hadn’t experienced before?
Everyone is dedicated and hardworking, and of course talented! Most important, the cast is selfless, and we support each other as a team. An ensemble must meld into a unit, which is vastly different from a solo performance. The trick is to find the right level so that you present whole cloth and not a patchwork.
Why do you think Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music is still so popular and if you had to describe their legacy-what would it be?
In many ways, they gave us the modern musical. Without them, we would have no Sondheim. They brought us the advancement of the plot through song, telling us as much or more through the music as had previously been relegated to dialogue.
What are you doing next on the stage?
That isn’t set yet, but I am sure it won’t be too long before the next show. In the meantime, I will be completing filming on a local independent production titled Medusa.
If you could have any role in a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, what would it be?
Now that’s a difficult question to answer. There are so many iconic roles, it’s hard to name just one. But for the moment, I’d say Emile de Becque from South Pacific. Or maybe….
A Grand Night for Singing plays from February 12-27, 2016 at Montgomery Playhouse performing at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.