William Blake, "a shy young Texan with a powerful tenor" (LA Times), has been taking the NYC nightlife scene by storm. Since his move to New York in 2007, he's racked up performances at just about every club in the city, including Birdland, Feinstein's at Loews Regency, The Metropolitan Room, Don't Tell Mama, and Uncle Charlie's. He's also graced the stage at Carnegie Hall (where he was invited by Michael Feinstein to perform in Mr. Feintsein's show, "Standard Time"), as well as Town Hall, where he shared the stage with Liza Minnelli, Lucie Arnaz, Chita Rivera, and Marilyn Maye, among others. In May 2011, he released his first live album, Live From New York City, which was recorded at Birdland in September 2010). Currently, he's hard at work preparing a tribute to Etta James (which he will perform at Birdland on Monday, June 4th), as well as co-starring alongside Andrea McArdle and Constantine Maroulis in the new Air Supply Musical, Lost In Love. Cabaret Chronicles author Jenna Esposito had a few minutes to chat with this rising star about his upcoming projects, his move to NYC, and more!
Jenna Esposito: So, William, you have had yourself quite a year! A new CD, being cast in Lost In Love [the new Air Supply musical], preparing your Etta James tribute, rave reviews across the boards…how does it all feel?
William Blake: It’s feeling good, it feels like things are happening, which is nice. The Etta James show has been a lot of fun for me and also very rewarding, because I’ve been doing a lot of research. I think it’s the most important show I’ve done so far. It’s been very fulfilling learning about her, selecting songs, working with Michael [Michael Thomas Murray, the musical director for Echoes of Etta: A Tribute to Etta James]…
Lost In Love is still in its early stages but I think it has a lot of potential; I could see it being the next Mamma Mia! It’s interesting having it set in England in 1915 but it works! I think Graham [Russell, of Air Supply] said it best – the songs are timeless. I think the show definitely has somewhere to go.
JE: You’ve done a few staged readings of it, right?
WB: Yes, we did 2 industry readings at Ripley-Grier, with Constantine Maroulis, Andrea McArdle, Justin Matthew Sargent, and a slew of other really talented people. The book and music are great, and the arrangements that Josh Freilich & Jonathan Ivie did are spectacular. And we have another reading at the Triad next month, which is a benefit for the Actors’ Fund – such a great cause. Haha, it’s right after the Etta James show! I’m going to be exhausted – singing my butt off in the Etta James show one night and then belting out ‘80s power ballads the next!
JE: I want to talk a little bit more about the Etta James show. Can you tell me a little bit about how the project came about?
WB: Well, last year, around October or November, we were thinking of going into the studio and doing an Etta album. But I didn’t know what was going on with her, health-wise. I knew she’d been ill, but I didn’t know how serious it was. And then in January, she passed away, so we thought it would be too soon to do an album. But then Michael and I had the idea to do a tribute show – one night only, just a tribute to her. At first, we were going to make it small, no backup singers, just a rhythm section, but after listening to all of her recordings, we couldn’t do it that way. You have to DO it! In addition to Michael Murray (who did all the arranging for the show) on keys, we have Steve Kelly on drums, Oscar Bautista on guitar, Mike Preen on bass, Matthew Polashek on sax, and Stephany Mora, Shira Elias and Ashley Betton on backup vocals. I call them (the backup vocalists) my Peaches because that’s the name of the group Etta sang with when she was younger. We’re all getting together to rehearse this weekend, and I’m so excited – it’s going to be amazing to hear it all come together. As far as the show, there are songs that people haven’t heard before, songs that people haven’t heard for a long time, and of course the classics – I think people would throw things at me if I didn’t do “At Last.” I think it’s the way she’d want it to go.