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Toxic Avenger Found his Bard in Bon Jovi...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

David Bryan just wants people to sing the songs he writes

You can take the guy out of New Jersey, but it doesn't necessarily work the other way around.

That's something you clue into pretty quickly after meeting David Bryan.

Most of the world knows the guy with the mane of curly blond hair as the awesomely skilled keyboard player of Bon Jovi.

But these days, he's also enjoying his career as a songwriter for Broadway musicals, most notably The Toxic Avenger (now on stage in a Dancap Production at the Danforth Music Hall) and Memphis (packing them in on the Great White Way in a show choreographed by Toronto's Sergio Trujillo). And no matter what he's doing, he's proud of his roots in Edison, N.J.

"I think growing up in the shadow of New York shaped me for life," says Bryan, relaxing in the balcony of the Music Hall, "Hey, you come from Jersey, you get used to being dumped on by the big city.

"We'd go swimming on the shore when I was a kid and we'd have f--king medical waste everywhere. I'm not kidding. Plastic tampon applicators would get stuck on your nose. We called them Jersey Trout."

It's easy to see how life lessons like that might warp a guy's sensibilities to the point that when he returned at the age of 45 to write a musical set in his home state, it would include songs with titles like "Hot Toxic Love," "Kick Your Ass" and "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore."

What's interesting is how and why musical theatre finally entered the life of a guy with 25 years of rocking and rolling with one of the world's best-known bands under his belt.

"My rite of passage as a white Jewish kid in Edison didn't include growing up on musicals, with the sole exception of being taken to see Fiddler on the Roof for my bar mitzvah.

"When I was growing up, I had more comedy albums than musical ones. George Carlin, Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, those were my main men."

He proudly quotes what he calls "the rankest joke of my youth:" "I wanted to kiss a girl where it stinks, so I took her to New Jersey."

While reporting his offbeat comic taste, Bryan modestly leaves out the 13 years he spent studying classical piano at Julliard and the 4.0 GPA he was pulling down in pre-med at Rutgers when John Bon Jovi first came a-calling.

And from the release of 1986's Slippery When Wet, all thoughts of comedy, classical music or medicine went out of Bryan's head.

"But by the time 1998 rolled around, I was writing a lot of songs on my own and placing them with publishing companies, but it took so damned long for anyone to record them. Then one day my publisher said `What about musicals?' `What about them?' I asked right back, deeply suspicious.

"He said, `When you've got a musical, people are singing 20 of your songs eight times a week.' I admitted that sounded good to me, but I had to figure out how to do it."

The difference between composing cuts for a rock CD and compiling a Broadway score at first seemed monumental to Bryan.

"When you write for a band or for yourself, it's like you're writing down all your hopes and dreams, but when you've got a musical, you have a story and a character has to go from point A to point B and have it all make sense."

He got a crash course in how to do it when he met up with Joe DiPietro, another Jersey boy (this one from Teaneck). DiPietro already had a smash off-Broadway musical review to his credit (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change).

They worked out a modus operandi which involved discussing the story, throwing out titles and having Bryan come up with hooky melodies to fit those titles.

"A repeatable title phrase with a melody that sticks in your head," is how Bryan writes his songs and before you mock it, remember that was exactly the same tactic that Cole Porter employed.

DiPetro and Bryan actually started working on another show called Memphis years before The Toxic Avenger. It was about a white DJ in 1950s Tennessee who brought black music to all audiences.

After six years and four out of town productions, it finally opened on Broadway in October to respectable reviews and enthusiastic houses. Its message of tolerance is close to Bryan's heart, even thought colour wasn't the issue in his case.

"I grew up as one of the few Jews in Edison and I had people tell me they hated me because of my religion. And I would say, `Yeah? Well, I'm a big, tall, tough Jew and I'll knock you the f--k out.

So Bryan is wearing two hats on his considerable head of hair: one as a rock musician, one as a Broadway composer – and he doesn't intend to give either up.

"I'm in a very successful band. We all love each other. It ain't ever breaking up. I also have a terrific hobby that became a full-time job.

"My only problem? There's not enough time to sleep in my world."



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I am and always have been a Bon Jovi fan. This blog is just my obsession taken a step further, my imagination in high gear if you will. I love to read and decided to see what would happen when I took that love of the written word and ramped it up a bit.

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