To say that Dwayne Cooper is a triple threat would be a gross under-estimation of his many talents. He’s had featured roles in the Broadway casts of Motown: The Musical and Hairspray, earned a well-deserved 2019 Chita Rivera Award as part of the Outstanding Ensemble of the sensational Off-Broadway production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe, been on several national tours, competed as the “fierce and fabulous” Milan on Season 4 of the popular TV reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and is an active founding member of The Doo Wop Project.
A group of golden-voiced musical theater artists from top Broadway shows, The Doo Wop Project is comprised of vocalists Charl Brown (Motown: The Musical), John Michael Dias (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), Russell Fischer (Jersey Boys), Dominic Nolfi (Jersey Boys), and Dwayne, along with musician and musical director Sonny Paladino (Pippin). Together they trace the evolution of the Doo-Wop genre through tight harmonies and authentic recreations of classic ‘50s hits (by such seminal favorites as the Crests, The Belmonts, and the Flamingos), songs of the next decade inspired by their mid-century sound (including Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, and The Four Seasons), and re-imagined Doo-Wop versions of works by more recent pop and rock stars (like Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, and Maroon 5).
On October 25, you – and fans around the world, of which they have many – can catch The Doo Wop Project right in your own living room, in their first ever live virtual concert streaming from New York’s New World Stages (observing the safety protocol of masks, social distancing, and no in-person audience in the venue). Dwayne (look for him on social media @itsdwaynecooper) was kind enough to take some time out from rehearsals to talk about his shows, his songs, and his favorites.
- Which is more fun – being on Broadway, on tour, in Milan, or in The Neighborhood?
Dwayne: Oh, that’s an excellent question – and it’s really hard! I’m an entertainer, so I love it all. There’s nothing like Broadway, that’s everybody’s dream. Being on tour with The Doo Wop Project is great because you get to travel and you meet so many different people. Being in Milan can be fun – wearing heels and looking like Donna Summer! The neighborhood is where it all started, with all my friends from Smokey Joe’s Cafe. It’s how I got my Equity card [on an earlier national tour of the show]. I just love entertaining people, so I can’t say one more than the other – but Broadway gets you insurance!
- What three words would you use to describe yourself??
Funny, dynamic, empathetic.
- At what age did you first notice you had such a deep voice?
[Laughing] Wow, oh, poppin’ fresh dough! Late 20s. Actually my vocal range is pretty big and I really didn’t start consistently showcasing my lower register until after Hairspray on Broadway. I saw more opportunities with it. In Motown, I covered the low voice, but then the swing left the show and I replaced him and covered thirteen people using all of my register. The Doo Wop Project really helped me to showcase my bass register in a way that felt fresh for me. Singing Doo-Wop songs, you need that foundation.
- Who was your stage or recording idol as a teenager?
Hmmm; as a teenager, it’s a toss-up between Prince and Michael Jackson. Both have a lot of different things that I like, but talk about range! That sexy smoky voice of Prince, but he also could sing in a high register, and nobody could command the stage like Michael Jackson, so it’s a hybrid of the two.
- Is there one song that you always love to perform?
When I’m performing with The Doo Wop Project, I perform a song call “Speedoo” by The Cadillacs. It’s a high-energy crowd-pleasing hella fun song that lets me showcase my versatility as a singer and dancer.
- What’s your favorite memory from Smokey Joe’s Cafe?
There was one time at the top of the show, when the guys come out and sing a cappella, that a woman in the front row was talking so loud – maybe on her cell phone or to somebody who was with her – and another woman in the audience yelled at her to shut up! It took the patience of Job for all of us to get through that song, because it was so – excuse my language – fucking funny!
- In real life, are you more like Smokey Joe, Charlie Brown, a Northwest Mountie, or the Boss, from the songs of Leiber and Stoller?
I would have to say I’m a Charlie Brown because . . . I am a clown [laughing].
- If you could have been in any of the groups that inspired The Doo Wop Project, which one would it be?
The Del-Vikings, because they were an integrated group and I think that would be very important in that time period – and now – to showcase unity amongst our races.
- What is it about the ‘50s?
The tight harmonies that didn’t need instruments. And the suits! These guys could just stand on the street corner and create these great harmonies; there was such a brotherhood. There’s something magical about being able to assemble a group of guys and do those harmonies. And the beautiful messages of love.
- Which costume do you prefer wearing – sharkskin, sequins, or sneakers?
That is not fair! Give me a black sequined pantsuit any day! I’m a big fan of the ‘70s, so one by Halston or Bob Mackie.
- What will you be for virtual Halloween this year?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! That’s a hard question, Deb! So if I say the answer, that means I have to do it, and I can’t commit! But I can tell you off-the-record . . . [He did, and it’s a good one!]
- If you had a black cat for a pet, what would you name it?
- What’s been your favorite comfort food, drink, and activity to get you through the isolation of the pandemic?
My comfort food is Krispy Kreme doughnuts. There’s a new one that just opened across the street from my apartment, so that is a guilty pleasure. My go-to drink is a green tea ginger ale. And lounging at the park is my favorite activity. I love going to the park, taking my bike, and just riding through and lounging.
- What do you love most about performing?
As clichéd as it sounds, the joy it brings to people, being a shape-shifter. You get to engage with people and to be on the same plane, not questioning each other. It’s nice to be that person, to help with that. And there’s also a sense of power on stage that I don’t feel when I’m off stage. People have paid money to see me and to have me entertain them, and I’m in control of it, at that moment – entertaining people and bringing them joy.
- If you could have one wish come true, what would it be?
That people would be happy and compassionate. And that they would buy tickets for The Doo Wop Project’s livestream concert on October 25!
Thanks, Dwayne, for a “fierce and fabulous” 15 minutes filled with laughs! I miss seeing you in-person on stage, and can’t wait for the livestream later this month!
Ken Davenport presents The Doo Wop Project: Live In Your Living Room, a virtual theatrical concert, broadcast live from New World Stages, NYC, on Sunday, October 25, at 7:00 pm. Tickets are priced at $25 for General Admission, $50 for a VIP Stream Pass (which includes an autographed photo of the cast and a Doo Wop branded mask), and $75 for a VIP Stream Pass with a Meet-&-Greet ticket (including a link to a post-show Zoom party with the group) and can be purchased online. All viewers will have the opportunity to interact with each other and with The Doo Wop Project, including submitting song requests, via a live chat that will appear alongside of the video stream.