The Doo Wop Project headlines Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House on New Year’s Eve | AspenTimes.com

The Doo Wop Project headlines Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House on New Year’s Eve

Current and former cast members of the Broadway blockbusters "Jersey Boys" and "Motown: The Musical" have joined forces as The Doo Wop Project, bringing American pop music's classics back to life.

The five-singer supergroup headlines the Wheeler Opera House on New Year's Eve.

The outfit's shows bring to life songs from the original doo-wop era groups like Dion and the Belmonts and the Flamingos, while also performing hits from "Jersey Boys" and "Motown" and reinterpreting contemporary hits in the old-school style.

The group formed four years ago, as the singers dug into the music that inspired Franki Valli and the Four Seasons (the subject of "Jersey Boys") and decided to take their show on the road.

Charl Brown, the Tony-nominated actor who played Smokey Robinson in the original cast of "Motown" and also was in "Jersey Boys," said in a recent phone interview that arranging new songs from the likes of Michael Jackson, Jason Mraz and Amy Winehouse is a highlight of performing with Doo Wop Project.

"Audiences love how we can do new songs in the doo-wop style," he said. "We're looking for different things that we like and songs that we want to cover. We each bring songs to the table for the group — the ones that work stick and the ones that don't go by the wayside."

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His acclaimed run in "Motown" not only acquainted Brown with the timeless music of the era, but gave him the chance to befriend Robinson and other Motown greats like producer Berry Gordy. On opening night of "Motown," Brown and the cast were joined on stage by Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and a veritable who's-who of living Motown legends. Robinson came back to see the show often in New York and during its run in London, Brown recalled.

"Whenever he sees me now he says, 'Hey, Me!'" Brown said with a laugh. "Which is so cool. And he has a big smile on his face whenever he sees the show. He says it always brings him to tears and brings him back to so many great old memories."

Brown and his Doo Wop Project cohorts are young — all at least a generation removed from the doo-wop heyday. Combining the classics with new songs, Brown hopes, will make new fans out of young people while also pleasing the faithful.

In one segment of the show, the cast talks about how they fell in love with these throwback styles.

Brown, for instance, grew up in what he calls a "Motown household," with groups like the Supremes, the Four Tops and the Miracles forming his boyhood soundtrack. His father had been in an amateur doo-wop group in the 1950s and passed on his love of the form.

"My dad used to laugh about how I could hear a Motown song one time and know it by heart," Brown said. "It just stuck with me."

And, like many born after the days of street corner doo-wop groups, Brown and his fellow cast members discovered many of these songs through movies like "Goodfellas" and "A Bronx Tale."

"Each guy has his own story, but mainly it's from our parents and from movie soundtracks," he said.

The elite singers and actors in the Doo Wop Project are led by music director Sonny Paladino, who also is currently serving as music supervisor for the acclaimed "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812" which opened to raves on Broadway last month with Josh Groban in the lead.

Coming off of Broadway and the eight-show-a-week grind of those stages has prepared the Doo Wop Project members, their voices and stamina for what's been a demanding touring act.

"You need to have a great work ethic to make it on Broadway and to stay on Broadway," Brown said. "That's helped us keep it together. We're all focused individually and that helps us put on an amazing show every time. This is fun for us."

atravers@aspentimes.com

If You Go …

What: The Doo Wop Project

Where: Wheeler Opera House

When: Saturday, Dec. 31, 8 p.m.

How much: $125

Tickets: Wheeler box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com

More info: Along with the concert, the New Year’s eve celebration includes complimentary beer and wine, passed appetizers, a champagne toast at midnight, a DJ and fireworks viewing.