Two of my favorite performers, Shelley Thomas ("Zana, Don't," "RENT," "Brooklyn The Musical") and Jason Wooten ("Rocky Horror," "Dance of the Vampires," "Hair," "Jesus Christ Superstar") are taking part in "Broadway Rox," a two-day event at Queens Theatre that celebrates the rock and pop hits of Broadway including pulsating hits from "Wicked," "Jersey Boys," "Rent," "The Who’s Tommy," "Mamma Mia," "Spring Awakening," "Hair," "Rock of Ages," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and many more. The musical evening features a 5 piece band with music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Jason Howland (composer of "Little Women") and is directed by Rob Evan and Rich Affannato.
In addition to Shelley and Jason, this starry cast features the talents of Celina Carvajal ("Tarzan," "Dracula The Musical"), Ashley Loren ("American Idol"), Justin Matthew Sargent ("Rock of Ages," "Bonnie & Clyde").
"Broadway Rox" will play at Queens Theatre (14 United Nations Avenue South in Flushing Meadows Corona Park) this Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:30pm and Saturday, Feb. 18 at 2pm and 8pm! All tickets are $35. Click here to purchase!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer?
Shelley: I think it is definitely a combination of people and experiences, but once I discovered my passion for singing, acting and dancing my family encouraged and supported me. Being on stage brought me out of my shyness, and I soon became enthralled with watching performers onstage and in movies. My family also opened my eyes to many performers who paved the way such as Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne, so I have always been grateful for the challenges they endured just to pursue their passion. The recent and tragic passing of legendary Whitney Houston did bring back a special memory for me: I got a karaoke machine for Christmas when I was a little girl since my parents (or Santa) realized I had an interest in singing. One of the tracks on the tape (yes, cassette tape) was Whitney's "I'm Your Baby Tonight," and I remember spending hours in my room learning the lyrics and rehearsing the song to make it the best I could before performing it for my family. I was hooked after getting that machine, and it inspired me to sing in the chorus and join drama club.
Jason: My high school drama teacher really helped me tremendously. I wasn't really planning on going into theatre, but life kind of took me in that direction. But once I decided it's what I wanted to do, I dove in head first and have never looked back.
2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to?
Shelley: Ooh, that list could go on and on, so I won't even try to form a list for you. But honestly, I have worked with some incredible actors and singers that are not famous and should be, and there are always more creative and talented people to meet along the way. I am always eager to learn from artists that I admire so I hope to have many more special work experiences in the future!
Jason: Sondheim seems cliché, but I really do love his work. Sweeney Todd still ranks as my #1 all-time dream role.
3. What attracted you to "Broadway Rox"?
Shelley: I immediately loved the concept of highlighting music from Broadway that is not necessarily traditional and putting even more of a rock, pop twist on it. I have always gravitated towards that kind of music anyway, whether it be on Broadway or on the radio -- I am a fan R&B, soul, and pop/rock styles anyway so it was right up my alley. It also has been fun to work on some of the rock songs that I have heard but never sung before. I love being on stage with a live band as well; there is nothing quite like it in terms of energy and excitement.
Jason: Rob Evan and I go back to "Dance of the Vampires." We've both worked for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and we've always had a great respect for one another. When he told me the idea, I was sold.
4. What excites you about getting to sing from some of Broadway's biggest shows?
Shelley: Well, it's like a mini-opportunity to work on all of those shows at once in an abridged fashion! We hit on the 60's and work all the way up until modern day, so there is never a moment to get bored. It was also fun to see which songs are from original musicals and which are from the jukebox form...it's like a grab bag for singers and audience members!
Jason: Most of songs I'm singing I've already sung before, either on Broadway or regionally. But some shows, like "Tommy," have alluded me. I'm really excited with the new spin we've come up with for "Pinball Wizard."
5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing "Broadway Rox"?
Shelley: First and foremost, I hope they get out out of it what they might need individually: to just escape and hum some tunes, to forget their worries, or to be inspired in some way. And it would be nice if they decide to support Broadway more and more so there can be another version of "Broadway Rox" a decade from now!
Jason: Some of these songs are really slamming. I hope they come away loving these rock tunes just as much as "Defying Gravity." But just in case, we've stuck that in there too, only just a little bit more amped up.
6. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer?
Shelley: Some days performing is therapy and some days it is just plain joyful. There is always something new to learn in my profession and in life, and I have come to know more of my fears and quirks that I either need to fight against or embrace to take me to another level as a performer and as a person. I am married to an actor, so we learn a lot from each other's experiences and opinions; we help each other get through the rough times and rejection but also love to celebrate the triumphs. I am a Virgo at heart, so I am still learning to let go of my idea of perfection and just let it rip sometimes without thinking too much!
Jason: That there are many sides to me. Every new role takes me to new places and I discover that I can be a rock star, or a hippie, or a freak. All those personas are in every one of us I suppose and it takes courage to tap into them.
7. What's the best advice you've ever received?
Shelley: I have gotten plenty of wise advice in my journey of life thus far, but the first thing that comes to mind is my parents encouraging me to speak up, say what's on my mind and never be afraid to ask questions or. If you don't ask, you will never know.
Jason: Twyla Tharp, in the very brief time I had with her, taught me to be fearless, while at the same time gently taking the audience into my care and leading them on a journey. Once you can do that, you will always have them on your side.